Flora of the Wax Lake Delta: One of Louisiana’s best-kept secrets to coastal restoration

December 1, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Hunting and Fishing, Wax Lake Delta

By Maggie Yancey, National Wildlife Federation

The Wax Lake Delta, a lush secluded enclave of natural beauty located in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin, is a hunter’s paradise among many wonders most people wouldn’t expect. The delta is known for offering excellent waterfowl hunting, and the open season welcomes more than 1,000 hunters per year to the 40,000-acre wildlife management area.

However, most people aren’t aware that the Wax Lake Delta didn’t always exist. In fact, the Wax Lake Delta was historically an open water basin. The miracle lies in the roughly 18 square miles of newly formed delta while most of Louisiana’s coast has experienced catastrophic land loss. Today, the Wax Lake Delta provides the perfect nesting habitat for a variety of birds and waterfowl.

In 1941, an outlet was constructed to divert approximately one-third of the Atchafalaya River’s discharge to reduce water levels at a nearby port. The Wax Lake Delta is an early stage of a prograding delta, which is a term used for a process of land building that provides ecological succession. The Mississippi River Delta loses the equivalent of a football field of land every hour making the Wax Lake Delta an important example of how to rebuild lost delta resources.

To understand how the delta attracts herons, egrets, ibis and other wading birds, let’s look at five plants that demonstrate the beauty and viability of the Wax Lake Delta.

#1: Floating Flora


A positive signal of a thriving ecosystem is birds. In the background, there are two Roseate Spoonbills feeding on small fish and crustaceans, like shrimp and crawfish. Food sources feed on fish and crawfish that hide in floating plants like the floating fern.

#2: Lotus


The presence of lotus also indicates conditions that are favorable for water lilies, sedges, reeds and grasses. These species only grow in shallow waters, where their growth clearly indicates water depth. They also make great camouflage for predatory reptiles like alligators.

The next three plant species were found in a wooded area located on a track of land that formed an island, Belle Isle, located in the Atchafalaya Basin.

#3: Jack and the Pulpit


This Jack and the Pulpit was shown in full bloom. Before blooming, there is a spathe on the plant that looks like an old fashioned pulpit. The plant is extremely toxic and is poisonous when consumed.

#4: American Beautyberry Plant


This species of beautyberry is an important food source to more than 40 species of songbirds, such as the American Robin and the Purple Finch.

#5 Ferns


Along with the southern shield wood fern, there are several species of ferns that were found on Belle Isle. This fern featured in the picture was a unique species that opens up when the leaves receive water.

Taking a look at these unique plants indicate the success of what can be grown on newly formed land and in marsh habitats. These new introductions of unusual plant species are inspiring for coastal restoration efforts.  The new growth also gives the opportunity for wildlife to flourish.

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A Bird's Eye View of Coastal Erosion

November 24, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Birds, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Wildlife

This was originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.

By Kelly Wagner, National Wildlife Federation

Each day I pass an egret on the way to work that lingers in the watery ditches in my town. It amuses me that this elegant bird seems to give little concern to the cars that are passing within ten feet of it. It doesn’t know that I am heading to NWF’s New Orleans field office that has one focus—to restore its wetlands habitat in the Mississippi River Delta before the wetlands disappear. Recently, I got to see the devastating wetland loss from the egret’s perspective.

The Mississippi River Delta, where the mighty Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, supports more than 400 species of birds. For millions of birds, the delta’s food-rich habitats are critical stopping places before their grueling nonstop flight across the Gulf. But human activities have disrupted the natural balance of the wetlands in the delta and they are receding at alarming rates—nearly a football field of wetlands disappears every hour.

Last week, we took local officials up in a flight provided by SouthWings.org to get an aerial view of how quickly the Gulf is encroaching inland. It was an eye-opening experience that only pictures can convey:

kw pic 1

As far as I could see looking south and westward, the wetlands were breaking up into patchy areas. The pattern of deterioration reminded me of the gauzy Halloween material with all the holes that people were using to decorate their homes.

kw pic 2

In some places, all you could see were the raised spoil banks from past canals that are no longer necessary as the wetlands turn to open water.

kw pic 3

We also passed over restoration areas that were underway, but from the air it was easy to see that the disappearing wetlands exceed the healthy or restored areas. We need to do more restoration on a larger scale to catch up with the amount of wetlands we are losing. Wildlife are depending upon us to restore this once-beautiful delta.




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RESTORE Council Staff Brave the Cold to visit the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle

November 20, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation

Wind.  Rain.  Record-setting lows.  None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning.  Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council atphoto 4 the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.  Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.

The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago.  Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp photo 2can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.

Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen.  The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area.  MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored.  There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.

Interested in visiting the platform and learning more?  Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.




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Adapting to climate change using natural infrastructure

November 13, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Climate, Community Resiliency, Meetings/Events

By Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund

For half a century, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) has been bringing together water resources professionals for information exchange, professional development and education. Hosting numerous conferences per year, AWRA recently hosted its Annual Water Resources Conference earlier this month in Washington, DC. More than 1,300 people attended the conference to hear presentations on the latest water resources topics and network with fellow professionals. The conference was also special as it was in celebration of AWRA’s 50th anniversary.

As part of this year’s annual conference, Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for Environmental Defense Fund’s water program, organized, the panel “Adapting to Climate Change Using Natural Infrastructure” and then participated as both a presenter and moderator. Joining Shannon were fellow panelists Todd S. Bridges, senior research scientist for environmental science at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and Sara Murdock, climate change program manager at The Nature Conservancy.

The panelists presented on ways to incorporate natural and nature-based infrastructure into design plans in order to reduce flooding and other risks associated with climate change.

In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure, which includes “green infrastructure” such as wetlands and barrier islands, is critical to protecting cities like New Orleans, communities and infrastructure. And as climate change continues, coastal areas like southeastern Louisiana will be at the forefront of climate adaptation and resilience. Incorporating green infrastructure with traditional “gray infrastructure,” such as floodwalls and levees, will both protect cities and people as well as increase the effectiveness of this existing flood protection infrastructure.


The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy incorporates both natural and traditional infrastructure to protect communities against storm surge flooding. Source: Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation

Environmental Defense Fund has been working on wetlands restoration in the Mississippi River Delta for 40 years. Lessons learned there can be used to help other coastal and deltaic areas become more resilient in the face of climate change. As part of that initiative, EDF is working on innovative approaches to scale up natural and nature-based climate adaptation and resilience solutions.

“EDF approaches resiliency as building the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience,” said Shannon to a room of more than 50 conference attendees. “We seek efficient and creative solutions that provide social, economic and environmental benefits; lower risks from climate change; and improve access to traditional as well as innovative sources of funding for implementation.”

“EDF believes we can meet risk reduction needs in ways that improve, not harm, ecosystems,” Cunniff continued. “We believe we can improve economic and social resiliency by building and conserving protective landscapes, or ‘natural and nature-based infrastructure.’”

Perhaps the best indication of attendees’ interest in the enhancing use of natural infrastructure was their lively dialogue with the panelists about the opportunities and needs to incorporate “green” and traditional “gray” approaches, which due to their enthusiasm, extended well into the conference’s cocktail hour.

Shannon also participated in the AWRA Student Career Night that brought together water resources professionals from several career fields (federal and local government, non-profit, consulting and academia) with undergrad and graduate students to learn about career options, how the water resources field is evolving and how to find the right job. Based on the attendance, Shannon noted, “Based on the impressive talent here, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the next generation of water resources professionals’ capability to solve some really big challenges.”

In 2015, AWRA is hosting a summer specialty conference on climate change adaptation and how to respond to it, build resilient systems and influence decision makers. The conference is being held in New Orleans, a city at the frontline of climate change adaptation and resilience. More information can be found on AWRA’s website: http://www.awra.org/meetings/NewOrleans2015/index.html.

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Job Opening: Communications Director, National Audubon Society

November 6, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Job openings

Position: Communications Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Job Location: Baton Rouge or New Orleans, La.
Type: Regular, Full-Time
Job Category: Communications/Marketing


Now in its second century, Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Audubon’s mission is engaging people in bird conservation on a hemispheric scale through science, policy, education and on-the-ground conservation action. By mobilizing and aligning its network of Chapters, Centers, State and Important Bird Area programs in the four major migratory flyways in the Americas, the organization will bring the full power of Audubon to bear on protecting common and threatened bird species and the critical habitat they need to survive. And as part of BirdLife International, Audubon will join people in over 100 in-country organizations all working to protect a network of Important Bird Areas around the world, leveraging the impact of actions they take at a local level. What defines Audubon’s unique value is a powerful grassroots network of nearly 500 local chapters, 22 state offices, 41 Audubon Centers, Important Bird Area Programs in 46 states, and 700 staff across the country. Audubon is a federal contractor and an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE).

Purpose of the Position:

The Communications Director for the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign (MRDRC) will play a key role in raising awareness of and building a constituency for the Walton Family Foundation-funded MRDRC. The Communications Director, working in concert with partner organizations, will advance MRDRC goals by leading the Communications Committee to implement measurable integrated communications plans. The Communications Director will integrate MRDRC strategies with Audubon’s broader Gulf-wide communications plans, providing strategic counsel and collaboration toward Gulf Coast region and national issues.

Essential Functions:

WFF Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign (90%)

  • Lead MRDRC Communications Committee through restoration implementation phases, including: state and federal policy fulfillment, conservation agenda advocacy and restoration project advancement.
  • Implement, update and design new communications and engagement plans and sub-strategies to support MRDRC and related Audubon conservation priorities.
  • Drive strategic plan execution in a manner that meets the quantitative, qualitative and best-practice goals outlined in measurement sections. Lead measurement protocol.
  • Pursue integration of communications planning and action with other committees’ strategic planning initiatives, including: policy, science, field, online and business partnerships. Deploy joint Building a Pro-Restoration Movement campaign.
  • Proactively identify and leverage emerging communications opportunities, including pitching stories to media, drafting op-eds and letters to the editor and other efforts to support MRDRC and Audubon’s objectives in the Delta region.
  • Deploy reactive communications strategies surrounding unexpected media, policy and community developments and issues response needs.
  • Guide planning and execution of press conferences and special events in conjunction with key policy, media and community landmarks and anniversaries.
  • Lead planning and execution of comprehensive paid media plans, including management of agency personnel and partners in advertising campaign planning, deployment and measurement.
  • Manage agency and contractor engagement; monitor interactions to achieve desired outcomes. Oversee budget.
  • Pursue public opinion and sociological research, building on previous research when available, to refine targeting, messaging, messengers, and other elements of strategy.
  • Oversee development of communications collateral materials to support campaign committees, including fact sheets, press materials, reports, promotional items, mailers, videos, online and multimedia resources.
  • Promote adherence to and update content of (as needed) MRDRC communications guidelines, with focus on social/online media. Devise and manage training protocol for new staff, in collaboration with online team leader.
  • Build awareness and support for Mississippi River Delta conservation throughout the Audubon organization, including staff, board members and chapters through close coordination and active participation with Audubon national outreach efforts.
  • Attain strategic alignment with National Audubon communications leads to integrate MRDRC communications strategies accordingly and complement overarching organizational goals.
  • Supervise MRDRC Communications Coordinator in fulfillment of the tasks described above.

Audubon Gulf Coast Coordination (10%)

  • In coordination with MS Flyway Vice President and Gulf states Audubon staff, manage Audubon Gulf-wide Communications Plan implementation and related WFF Gulf-wide initiative progress.
  • Collaborate with Gulf states teams to track measurable outcomes toward attaining set qualitative and quantitative goals.
  • Support proactive storytelling and participate in issues-driven communications strategy and response as needed through region.


Internal: National Audubon Society staff at all levels, especially management and conservation staff within Mississippi River Delta, Gulf Coast and national arenas. Second-tier reporting to VP, Gulf Coast/Mississippi Flyway on Gulf matters.

External: Partners, especially related to the Walton-funded Mississippi River Delta restoration collaborative, media, vendors, contractors, scientists and government officials.

Qualifications and Experience:

Qualifications: (e.g., education, training, experience, licenses and skills)

  • No fewer than five years of experience in public relations, journalism or other communications and marketing fields with a demonstrated record of success dealing with national-international media and communications issues.
  • Demonstrated success in leading a team and creating and implementing communications strategies.
  • Experience in planning and executing web-based communications campaigns and other electronic communications products; leadership in environmental campaigns and with social media preferred.
  • Ability to maintain strong and productive relationships with media, Audubon staff, partners, and other stakeholders.
  • Exceptional writing, reporting and editing skills. Must write well quickly and under pressure.
  • Ability to communicate complex and technical information clearly to various audiences, in writing, one-on-one, and in formal presentations.
  • Exceptional time-management skills and ability to juggle multiple projects and consistently meet deadlines.
  • Knowledge of conservation issues, especially related to birds and their habitats, desirable.
  • Bachelor’s degree required.
  • Regular travel required.
  • Valid driver’s license required.


Ability to operate Windows-based computers (including Microsoft Office); proficiency with public relations software, Adobe creative software, social media platforms, and other software; and experience in operating still cameras, video cameras, and sound-recording devices preferred.

To apply, please visit: https://careers-audubon.icims.com/jobs/2267/communications-director%2c-mississippi-river-delta-restoration-campaign/job.

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