By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, on Wednesday, the White House announced the release of the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda. Prepared by the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group, this commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of our natural resources is the first of its kind. The agenda identifies a suite of actions the Federal Government will take to increase the resiliency of our country’s natural resources to the current and future effects of climate change.
Included in the agenda are actions to protect important ecosystems and to promote climate-resilient lands and water; improve carbon sinks such as wetlands, grasslands and forests; support including natural infrastructure – such as coastal wetlands – into community planning; and modernizing Federal programs and investments to build resilience. A full list of actions as well as a timeline can be found here. The announcement also included new executive actions to support resilient natural systems, including investing in natural infrastructure, supporting coastal resilience and restoring forests in the Lower Mississippi River Delta.
Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for water programs at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), was invited to speak at the White House Wednesday. “To propel adoption of natural infrastructure as part of a balanced approach to coastal resiliency, EDF aims to demonstrate that incorporating these nature and nature-based systems cost-effectively reduces risks to coastal communities and improves their resiliency, while providing communities with other benefits,” she said.
“Natural infrastructure needs to be seen and embraced as a viable tool for reducing risk,” Shannon continued. Ms. Cunniff went on to point out that natural infrastructure is ideal for enhancing resiliency because:
- Natural infrastructure mitigates multiple sources of risk, including reducing tidal flooding, erosion and wave heights. It is especially effective for frequent, chronic impacts of sea level rise, which are predicted to increase with climate change.
- It also helps achieve climate adaptation and mitigation goals, as oyster reefs and wetlands also act as carbon sinks.
- Its use results in other co-benefits that achieve other public purposes, such as providing open space, recreation, fisheries, water quality improvement and drinking water protection benefits.
In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure works hand-in-hand with traditional “gray” infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls. Coastal wetlands provide storm surge protection for levees, increasing the structures’ resiliency and helping prevent failure. Natural infrastructure can also reduce the cost of traditional infrastructure, as the height of seawalls or dunes can be reduced if there are enough protective wetlands in front of them. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains a suite of restoration and resilience tools that work in concert to rebuild and protect Louisiana’s vanishing coast.
“What we are after is putting nature and nature-based infrastructure on a more even playing field with gray infrastructure, to provide the fullest set of tools for communities to plan and implement their more sustainable and resilient futures,” said Ms. Cunniff.
The Administration also reaffirmed its commitment to implement the Green Infrastructure Collaborative in the Climate Natural Resources Priority Agenda. The collaborative includes 26 public and private sector organizations – including Environmental Defense Fund – who have pledged to work together to highlight the multitude of benefits provided by natural infrastructure.
In addition to Ms. Cunniff, other speakers at Wednesday’s announcement were Ben Grumbles, President, U.S. Water Alliance; Ann Mills, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Marion McFadden, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Office of Housing and Community Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Julius Ciaccia, executive director for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
By Jesse Soule, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign
As the summer officially came to a close, myself and fellow Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign staff joined other concerned Louisianans at the Eiffel Society on iconic St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans to learn about the increasingly dyer state of our coast. Cocktails for the Coast, an outreach event hosted by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign, provided an engaging atmosphere chock-full of knowledgeable advocates, eager citizens and passionate organizations.
One of the highlights of the night included a panel of speakers, who provided first-hand accounts of their unique connections to the coast. Derek Brockbank, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign Director, emphasized the coast’s economic and ecological importance not only to the state of Louisiana, but to the entire nation. In particular, coastal land loss adversely affects local fisheries, wildlife habitats, critical energy infrastructure, commercial trade routes and the livelihood of millions of people. Derek’s investment in coastal restoration, not to mention his commute to New Orleans from Washington, D.C., stands as a testament to the dedication and effort that is critically needed to successfully combat coastal land loss.
We then had the pleasure of listening to Lynda Woolard, a dedicated activist, fundraiser and photographer for a number of the New Orleans’ community organizations. Lynda recounted her experience on a boat tour of the coast which allowed her to truly grasp the severity of our state’s land loss crisis. In particular, Lynda was shocked at the closeness of the New Orleans skyline to the struggling wetlands, bringing forth the realization that the fate of our beloved city is inextricably tied to the fate of the Mississippi River Delta.
Our final speaker was Kelli Walker, the senior governmental affairs director for the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors. Kelli provided a unique viewpoint, noting the negative impact the receding coastline has had and will continue to have on the housing market, in particular. Notably, rising flood insurance rates are one of the increasingly prevalent issues that realtors and homeowners alike will have to deal with in the future, threatening economic stability in south Louisiana.
Also in attendance were several local restoration organizations offering their support while providing attendees with further information regarding their missions. Organizations in attendance included the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the National Audubon Society.
If you are interested in directly restoring Louisiana wetlands, sign up to plant cypress trees with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation on October 10 or 17 in Maurepas, La. Contact Theryn Henkel at (504) 308-3470 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana also has opportunities to restore our coast on October 10, 11 or 25. Visit www.crcl.org to sign up.
By Alisha Renfro, National Wildlife Federation
“Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.” – Hector Bolitho
Oysters are remarkable organisms. Not only are they delicious, but each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, which provides food for the oyster and improves local water quality. A collection of oysters form an oyster reef, which can provide food and habitat for a wide variety of fish and birds. In addition to these benefits, oyster reefs can also be an important tool for coastal restoration.
Oyster barrier reef restoration can reduce the erosion and retreat of nearby shorelines. An alternative to rocks in some areas of coastal Louisiana, oyster reef restoration can be a low maintenance project, as reefs can build themselves vertically over time, helping them keep pace with rising sea levels.
The benefits of oyster reef restoration can be great, but are all those benefits present as soon as the reef restoration project is finished or do they develop over time? A study published this year in Ecological Engineering, “Temporal variation in development of ecosystem services from oyster reef restoration,” examines the development of oyster reef benefits over time, including improved water quality, stabilization of nearby shorelines and use as fish and bird habitat.
In the study, led by Megan La Peyre, researchers built six experimental oyster reef projects along the shoreline of Sister Lake in Terrebonne Parish, La. The oyster reefs were created using shell material. The researchers found that:
- Reefs were populated by oysters and other filter feeding organisms that provided water filtration benefits within the first year of post-project construction and continued for the duration of the study.
- Shoreline stabilization benefits provided by the restored reef to nearby marshes varied with results suggesting that shoreline stabilization benefits only occurred during periods of high winds and more powerful waves.
- Created oyster reefs immediately provided habitat and had increases in the abundance of fish species associated with them. This remained consistent throughout the study.
The results of this study suggest that oyster restoration projects can provide multiple benefits to the ecosystem that surrounds them fairly quickly after their construction, but that their ability to stabilize nearby shorelines may be limited in areas where waves are small but persistent. However, the researchers in the study suggest that modifications to the design and footprint of oyster reef restoration projects exposed to low energy wave may increase the shoreline stabilization benefits and should be explored further.
Oyster barrier reef restoration projects are an important component in our arsenal of coastal restoration tools. Prominently featured in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, this project type can have multiple benefits under the right conditions. However, like all types of restoration projects, there are factors that can limit project success. Oyster reef restoration projects depend on the recruitment and survival of oysters, which flourish under very specific conditions. Water that is too cold, too fresh, too salty or doesn’t have enough oxygen can limit the success of the project – if not dooming it to complete failure.
No one type of restoration project is the cure-all for combatting the rapid loss of land in coastal Louisiana. Instead, we need to use a combination of science-based projects in our restoration toolbox to staunch the rapid loss of our coast and build a more sustainable future.
By Eden Davis, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign
The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign is hosting Cocktails for the Coast tonight (September 25) at the Eiffel Society in New Orleans (2040 St. Charles Ave.) from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. This will be an evening celebrating the beautiful wetlands that serve as our city’s first line of defense. There will be music, food, drinks and fun. The first 60 people who arrive will receive a free drink. After that, there are phenomenal drink specials!
There will be several conservation organizations present to provide information and ways to get involved to save our fragile wetlands. We lose a football field every hour, but there are solutions! Folks from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society and the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development will be in attendance to show you how you can be part of the solution to save our coast. To top things off, there will be a raffle drawing for five prize bags.
Come eat, drink and celebrate our beautiful coast tonight at Cocktails for the Coast!
By Eden Davis, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign
On September 12, I had the opportunity to travel to Raccoon Island, one of the remaining barrier islands outside of Terrebonne Bay. Raccoon Island was once part of the 25-mile-long barrier island chain called Isles Dernieres or Last Islands. Prior to the Last Island Hurricane of August 10, 1856, Isles Dernieres was a famous resort destination. When the Last Island Hurricane hit, more than 200 people perished in the storm, and the island was left void of vegetation. The hurricane split the island into five smaller islands called East, Trinity, Whiskey, Raccoon and Wine Islands.
On this beautiful summer day, I traveled by boat with 18 other volunteers and employees from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 13 miles off the coast of Cocodrie to Raccoon Island. As we left Terrebonne Bay, we passed several shrimping boats and a distinctly large jack-up rig that was heading offshore. These were distinct reminders that Louisiana’s coast is a working coast that provides our nation with oil and gas and some of the best seafood one can sink its teeth into.
Upon reaching the island, we saw hundreds of pelicans. Many were in the air, some were in the water and others were on the island with their young whom were not yet able to fly. As we trekked to the beach side of the island, there were beautiful moon shells scattering the sand. Our task was to install a one-mile-long sand fence. This involved rolling out sections of the fence, standing it up and nailing it to the already placed fence posts.
The sand fence will help to restore and protect 20 acres of the rapidly eroding shoreline of Raccoon Island. The island chain used to be one large barrier island, but years of erosion from hurricanes compounded with a loss of sediment from the Mississippi River have broken the island into the four that exist today. The remaining islands continue to erode and, without intervention like the sand fence project, may wash away completely over the next several years. The sand fence will directly protect critical nesting habitat for the pelicans and other seabirds that call these islands home. The sand fence will also help to mitigate erosion.
Barrier islands are our communities’ first line of defense. Storm surge during a hurricane will hit these islands before it hits our marshes and communities. Barrier islands are beautiful, but they are on the front lines of sea level rise and subsidence. If we fail to restore them, our grandchildren may never see their splendor. Moreover, the birds that call these islands home will be forced out of their habitat.
Brown pelicans, the island’s primary residents and our state bird, are at great risk if these islands succumb to the Gulf’s waters. Brown pelicans do not migrate. They stay in the mangroves, the beaches and the shores. As the Louisiana coast sinks into the Gulf, the critical habitat for these beautiful birds is threatened.
If you have a Friday or Saturday free, consider volunteering with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. They have regular marsh grass plantings, dune restoration projects and other ecosystem protection and restoration projects available for volunteers. Not only will you enjoy a beautiful day outdoors, but you will also be directly restoring and protecting our coast. Check out the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s event calendar here: https://www.thedatabank.com/dpg/316/mtglist.asp?formid=event&caldate=9-1-2014#mtgsrchfrm.