Restoring the Wetlands as Part of our Sacred Duty and History

June 8, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in People

Guest post by The Very Rev. William Terry, M.P.S., M.Div. 

God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world the morning stars sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy; open our eyes to the wonders of creation and teach us to use all things for good, to the honor of your glorious name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Source: A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 569)

Rev. William Terry

Rev. William Terry

Before our city and coastlands were flooded by Hurricane Katrina, there was a cry to rebuild wetlands that were disappearing. Before I became a priest, I was involved in the shrimp-boat industry. I had the privilege to befriend Cajun and Vietnamese families that had been fishing for generations. “Saltwater incursion” was a term I learned about very early on. We knew then and did nothing or very little. The voices of a few fishermen echoed in an endless hymn of subsistence, in a void hemmed in by the greed of special interest.

I have also been involved with the offshore industry through various professional positions. My father was a marine surveyor, so I was brought along to shipyard after shipyard during my youthful summers. We were also a multi-generational boating family, so I came to know our coastlands and learned about all the potential bounty it provided.

I can even remember when Cat Island was big, and we’d camp on its peninsula. I remember steaming out to Chandeleur Island when it was an island and not a reef. I remember seeing vast schools of fish in Mississippi Sound and trolling for mackerel, fishing for white trout and watching the pogie boats set out their nets. But as the song says, “It ain’t der no more,” or at least not like it was.

Then I became a priest. Now my experience is filtered through the sacred lens of my faith. That experience includes all things created. If you think for a moment that the bayous, wetlands or offshore islands are not sacred, then you haven’t seen a sunrise in winter in a pond off of Lake Borgne. If you think that our linkage to nature is only a means to our personal ends, then you haven’t read the Gospels.

Somewhere and somehow, we lost our communion with creation. Nature, even our wetlands, became an object to an end – no longer a co-participant in creation and the cosmos, but rather “a resource” to be used without consideration of moral, ethical and even sacred thresholds.

The heart of a faith-based eco-theology stretches back to the very start of Christianity. Indeed, the harshest critic of abusive power and thoughtless human consumption was that little Rabbi Yeshua. He gives us a constant critique of wealth on the altar rather than God and humanity. So it is with eco-theologians. In the 12th century, a nun by the name of Hilda critiqued and catalogued the pollution of the Rhine River and called for a unification and cooperation with nature in her writings. In the early and into the mid 20th century, holy scientists like de Chardin would say:

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

Later in the 20th century, outspoken voices like Thomas Berry, a scientist-theologian, would seek to reunify nature and the sacred. He would claim that as Christians, our obsession with redemption history is out of sacred context and causes a chasm between God and humanity. He reminds us:

“The naïve assumption that the natural world is there to be possessed and used by humans for their advantage and in an unlimited manner cannot be accepted.”

If the sunrise on the sea and the wind in salt marshes are sacred, then such is also a litany of sacred expression. Just as holy people everywhere are called to care for sacred texts, churches, mosques and synagogues, then too we are called as people of faith to care for the even greater sacred text that is Nature.

So, is there confession of sin in the wetlands? Is there a movement toward reconciliation with creation? Is there a desire to repent and to “sin no more?” I hope so. I pray so. I dream of a day when our wetlands heal and in their health, we find our health.

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Tracking Fish with Acoustic Telemetry—Implementation of an Exciting Technology in Lake Pontchartrain

May 31, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Hunting and Fishing, Science, Wildlife

By Nic Dixon, Outreach Associate, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and many other fisheries organizations and scientists worldwide have traditionally used fish tags to keep track of fish populations. You may have even applied these simple dart-tipped plastic tags to a fish yourself. Standard fish tagging efforts (in part) identify where the fish was originally captured, Point A, and then where the fish was recaptured, Point Z. But there is not a clear picture of where these fish were for points B, C, D, etc.

Now, thanks to an acoustic telemetry project, LDWF has been able to pinpoint the exact locations of 244 speckled trout, 64 redfish and 18 bull sharks in the Lake Pontchartrain area.

What exactly is acoustic telemetry you ask? It’s the ability to track animals at a distance using sound. An acoustic transmitter that emits a pinging sound is surgically implanted into the fish. When the fish swims within a half mile of one of the dozens of stationary receivers scattered around Lake Pontchartrain, it records the transmitter’s ping as time, date and fish ID number. This data is downloaded from all of the receivers every 6-8 weeks, and LDWF publishes their data in an interactive map: the LDWF fish tracker.

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Diagram of redfish with an acoustic transmitter. Image credit: Ashley Ferguson, LDWF

Diagram of redfish with an acoustic transmitter. Image credit: Ashley Ferguson, LDWF

This information isn’t just exciting for the intrigued anglers in Lake Pontchartrain, it’s also exciting for scientists, policymakers and conservationists alike. This newly implemented technology has started to shed light on everything from fish migration patterns and habitat preferences to residency time and environmental impacts.

Seeing how fish responded to the brief opening of the Bonnet Carre’ spillway earlier this year is of particular interest. It has allowed us to study how fish might react to a large input of river water during high water events. This technology would also be useful in determining how fish respond to changes resulting from the planned Mid-Breton and Mid-Barataria sediment diversions. Additional research would be needed to understand how this technology can be used to monitor these basins. Nonetheless, an interesting observation was made by Ashley Ferguson, LDWF Biologist and fish telemetry expert, that “under the conditions at the time of the spillway opening, including the cooler water temperatures and the short 22-day opening, adult tagged spotted seatrout (speckled trout) and red drum (redfish) were not observed leaving Lake Pontchartrain.” This observation could help inform how a future sediment diversion might be operated and minimize impact on certain fish populations.

Our coalition of organizations is excited to see this technology being developed and hope its use will extend to other places such as the Breton and Barataria Basins. It could help tremendously with the state’s plan for monitoring and adaptive management of its restoration projects’ impact on fisheries.

Redfish being released back into Lake Pontchartrain after having an acoustic transmitter being surgically implanted. Photo credits: Gabe Griffin, LWDF

Redfish being released back into Lake Pontchartrain after having an acoustic transmitter being surgically implanted. Photo credits: Gabe Griffin, LWDF

 Nic Dixon assists in CRCL community engagement efforts with workshops, interviews, data collection, and any additional communication tasks such as producing and distributing video content. Nic has had a diversity of lab and field research experiences in ecology ranging from the Yukon River Delta in Alaska to the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana. He joined CRCL in 2014 after graduating from Louisiana State University’s School of Renewable Natural Resources.

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Louisiana Wetlands: Recognizing a National Treasure During American Wetlands Month

May 26, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Meetings/Events

By Richie Blink, Plaquemines Parish Community Outreach Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation

May is American Wetlands Month, and Louisiana's coastal wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in North America. Not only do they provide habitat for numerous fish, wildlife and birds, but they also help improve water quality, provide recreational opportunities and protection for people and infrastructure from damaging storm surges.

Wildlife habitat and nurseries

Wetlands serve as a nursery environment for juvenile fish. The countless ponds, bays and bayous found in the Mississippi River Delta provide essential habitat for most commercial and game fish found in the Gulf of Mexico. Menhaden, shrimp, oysters and blue crab area all important commercial species that depend on healthy coastal wetlands to thrive. Additionally, fur-bearers like muskrat, beaver and mink, as well as reptiles including alligators call coastal wetlands and estuaries home.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Storm surge protection

Wetlands have an incredible value for people, too. One acre of wetlands has the capacity to hold up to 1 million gallons of water during a flood! On average, damaging storm surges are reduced by one foot for every 2.7 miles of wetlands, reducing wave energy and protecting levees and other critical infrastructure from these destructive forces of nature. The value of community protection for a one-mile strip of wetlands is valued at $5.7 million.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Water filtration

Wetlands also help improve water quality by filtering and retaining residential, agricultural and urban wastes. Reconnection of the Mississippi River to surrounding wetlands would help filter out nutrients that are contribute to a harmful low oxygen area in the Gulf of Mexico dubbed the “dead zone.” The shallow waters of coastal wetlands are good habitat for submerged aquatic vegetation, which can utilize the extra nutrients and potentially reduce the Gulf of Mexico dead zone as well as increasing water clarity.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands

Louisiana holds 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the continental U.S. and is currently experiencing around 80 percent of all coastal wetland loss in the U.S. Work is currently underway to restore and rebuild wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through projects in the state’s Coastal Master Plan, including sediment diversions and marsh creation. The reintroduction of Mississippi River water and sediment to its delta plain allows new wetlands to build and flourish, providing habitat for wildlife, clean water, places to recreate, and protection for storm surge.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Louisiana’s wetlands are a national treasure worth protecting. Learn more about why wetlands are important: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/may-american-wetlands-month-learn-explore-take-action.

As the Plaquemines Community Outreach Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Richie Blink works closely with local stakeholders to ensure widespread support of sustainable restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. Prior to joining the coalition Richie served as the Coastal Zone Program Manager with Plaquemines Parish Government to achieve a zero net loss of wetlands. He organized grassroots wetland restoration efforts that resulted in the planting of more than 15,000 cypress trees to reverse land loss and reduce storm surge near his hometown south of New Orleans. He serves as a board member of the Woodlands Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust organization focused on preservation of Louisiana’s coastal forest ecosystems. Richie served for three years on the Plaquemines Coastal Zone Advisory Committee which selects coastal restoration projects for implementation. In his free time, he guides motorboat tours into Louisiana’s coastal wetlands for Lost Lands Environmental Tours L3C. Always exploring, Richie holds a private pilot license and is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain.

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Louisiana Legislature Passes Resolution Funding State’s 2016-2017 Coastal Activities

May 20, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, jlopez@saveourlake.org

Louisiana Legislature Passes Resolution Funding State’s 2016-2017 Coastal Activities

Resolution Directs Investment of $736 Million to Key Restoration and Protection Projects

(Baton Rouge, LA– May 20, 2016) Yesterday, in a unanimous vote, the Louisiana Senate approved House Concurrent Resolution 2 (HCR -2), resulting in final passage of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2016-2017 annual plan for coastal protection and restoration through the legislature. The resolution directs $736 million toward coastal restoration and protection activities over the course of fiscal year 2017 – from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 – and outlines the state’s prioritization of projects during that period. This authorization will fund some of the 19 priority projects for restoring Louisiana’s coast as identified by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.

In response, coalition members including Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following statement:

“We applaud the Louisiana Legislature on their continued prioritization of coastal restoration and protection at this moment in our state’s history. Without consistent, determinative action outlined in the Coastal Master Plan to confront Louisiana’s land loss crisis, more communities, industries and wildlife are at risk of further destruction.

“We are grateful to Governor John Bel Edwards and CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry for their leadership in defending coastal dollars and prioritizing the most promising, science-based restoration projects outlined in the state’s Coastal Master Plan. We also thank Representative Stuart J. Bishop for shepherding this resolution through the legislature.

“This annual plan recognizes the importance of coastal restoration and protection as equal pillars in ensuring a resilient future for our state, its residents, wildlife and industries. We applaud the inclusion of a comprehensive suite of projects, including barrier island restoration, sediment diversions and community resiliency efforts, that can work together to address the variety of problems afflicting our coast. We are encouraged to see the advancement of restoration in some areas impacted by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and recommend CPRA further prioritize restoration of this region.

“Our coalition looks forward to working with the state and others as they finalize the 2017 Coastal Master Plan that will provide an updated roadmap for coastal restoration and protection.”

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Earth Day 2016: Planting Trees to Restore Louisiana’s Coast

May 17, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration

By Matt Phillips, Outreach Coordinator, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

On Friday, April 22nd, 2016, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition staff participated in an Earth Day tree planting event. Outreach team staff joined their partners at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and several volunteers to plant 250 cypress trees graciously donated by the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation. Our staff and volunteers were thrilled to spend a day working in the wetlands, the sunshine and gentle breeze being a pleasant change from the normal office environment.

Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.

Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.

The nutrient-rich alluvial soils on the east bank of the Mississippi River create perfect conditions for growing cypress, and scientists at LPBF boast of a 77% survival rate for their volunteer-planted cypress trees. Cypress trees provide habitat for insects and animals, and as their tangled root masses grow, the plants establish themselves in the soil, limiting erosion while filtering water in the swamp. These trees are essential for restoring degraded wetland ecosystems.

A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.

A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.

Planting cypress in a degraded swamp requires some precautions to ensure the trees survive. Volunteers must select an appropriate substrate—not too wet, but not too far from water either—so the trees can thrive. Small wetland creatures threaten the young trees as well, and in Louisiana, nutria pose a consistent threat. The young trees contain a lot of nutrients, and the large rodents find them particularly yummy. To make sure the trees’ tender roots are protected, we installed nutria guards around their trunks.

Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.

Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.

Working hard to restore the coast!

Working hard to restore the coast!

MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!

MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!

Our team planted 250 trees, and though sweaty, sunburnt and exhausted, we could not have planned a better way to spend Earth Day.

If you would like to get involved in projects like this and other volunteer opportunities, please visit our Volunteer page!

Matt Phillips is the Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition’s Outreach Team. He works with organizers around Louisiana on improving the coalition’s community engagement. A native of New York City, Matt graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and moved to Louisiana shortly after to work on and learn about the state’s coastal land loss. He lives in New Orleans.

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