Appreciating all our wetlands do and partnering with Loras College, Camp Hope, and Jefferson Parish Coastal Department to encourage wetland habitat.
This weekend the world will take a moment to celebrate wetlands for their inherent beauty and the critical service they provide to coastal communities.
In the Pontchartrain Basin, wetland habitat surrounds us- even in the urban City of New Orleans. The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle in the Lower 9th Ward and the Urban Marsh at the mouth of Bayou St. John are just two wetland habitats in the city.
Wetlands are valuable to a coastal city like New Orleans because they help defend our homes and neighborhoods by buffering against storm surge that might otherwise overtop our hurricane levee system. Wetlands can provide the same kind of service to the levees that surround the river or Lake Pontchartrain, helping to keep a strong wind from flooding nearby roads.
Because of frequent wind-driven flooding, a layer of concrete already armors most of the Southshore of Lake Pontchartrain. Over a decade ago, a project aimed at preserving that armor formed Bucktown Marsh and Park, built from leftover dredge material. The built wetland environment tops the concrete-edged shoreline with an absorbent layer of land to better protect against flooding.
A Biology student from Loras College taking a break from planting at Bucktwon Park.
Last week with the help of Jefferson Parish Coastal Management Department and Camp Hope, we brought students out to plant trees at Bucktown Park. The purpose of the project was to plant trees that support birdlife and will encourage resident and migrating birds to inhabit the adjacent marsh. Our plant scientist, Dr. Eva Hillmann, hand picked tree species that will make this possible. She's noted that once the birds arrive, "the nearby marsh will start to function more like a natural wetland."
The volunteers, students from Loras College, were connected to the project through Camp Hope, a volunteer camp dedicated to serving the area with help from visitors to Louisiana.
"We do what we do at Camp Hope because we believe that volunteering in New Orleans can be life transformational for anyone involved." -Chris Conley, Project Manager at Camp Hope
The Loras students chose to come down to New Orleans to learn more about the relationship their river town has with Louisiana's coastal land loss crisis. Loras College is in Dubuque, Iowa, nestled in a bend of the Mississippi River. Closer to the head of the Mississippi, Dubuque residents spend their summers water skiing, kayaking, and fishing on the same river that has historically humbled our levee system.
Dr. Kevin Koch, a professor at Loras College, often writes about the Mississippi:
"I see the Mississippi almost every day. In summer I canoe its backwaters. In winter, I go to spot bald eagles. My office window sports a distant view of the river from five stories up on a distant bluff.
We all share this river. It hosts our picnics, and we boat on it and float barges on it. Sometimes it drowns our children, and sometimes it floods our towns.
It is what it is, and communicates nothing, and feels nothing. This is not out of insolence. The river was here first, and is not required to be on our terms."
Despite abiding by its own terms, humans have managed to leash the river in some ways. Trevor, a Loras student, remarks on the mechanisms in place to control the Mississippi, "some of those things that make Dubuque thrive as a river town, such as locks and dams have a reverse impact here in Louisiana."
While locks and dams contribute to higher flood waters downstream, the most pressing issue for coastal Louisiana is the capture of sediment upstream due to major river engineering. Sediment is a valuable resource needed to help rebuild our coast and preserve our wetlands.
This World Wetlands Day, take a moment to appreciate the marsh and the swamp that surround us in coastal Louisiana. Celebrate them for their beauty and their function, because they are valuable to our way of life.
2019 is a critical year for our coast. The decisions made now will determine what kind of Louisiana we leave for our children and grandchildren. You can celebrate World Wetlands Day by sharing your voice and let our elected officials know you want them to work hard to save our coast.