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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Local youth, volunteers plant nearly 6,000 sqft. of new wetland

Local youth, volunteers plant nearly 6,000 sqft. of new wetland

When you get kids involved in a worthwhile project, one designed for a common good, factors like politics, cost, timing, or who gets the credit tend to be forgotten.

Those factors are more “adult” in nature and don’t figure into a kid’s view.

But when you invite several classes of students from local schools to help “rebuild the marsh”, they simply wrap their minds around the idea and get down to doing it.

This past weekend, under rainy and windy conditions, about 100 students from Holy Rosary Catholic School and Golden Meadow Middle School participated in a project to plant native vegetation in manmade islands, and install them along a vulnerable stretch of LA1 between Port Fourchon and Grand Isle.

The CCA/LA-1 Floating Island Shoreline Protection Project got together reps from Coastal Conservation Association and other private groups and local school kids to plant several 8’ x 25’ floating islands with mangrove, shoreline paspalum and smooth cord grass, and then help ferry them to an area along LA1 where mother nature has done a great deal of damage to the marsh.

The islands are anchored to the water bottom allowing the plants to take root in the hope of preserving the fragile wetlands.

This is the third project of its kind In the Lafourche/Terrebonne area.

In 2011 a similar venture was undertaken in Isle de Jean Charles south of Houma, an effort that won international attention.

In 2012, one year after installation, 90% of the Isle de Jean Charles project survived Hurricane Isaac.

“It won several awards and was submitted by Shell at the World Petroleum Conference and was one of three finalists,” said David Cresson CCA Executive Director.

The CCA/LA1 project’s total cost of about $200,000 was funded by CCA Building Conservation Trust, Shell Oil, Entergy, Lafourche Parish Government, Martin Ecosystems and private donations.

Other volunteer groups included the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Golden Meadow Fire Department, Clean Tank LLC., LA1 Coalition, and Restore or Retreat.

Martin Ecosystems is the manufacturer of the floating island concept, which restores and protects wetlands with an innovative, patented design using recycled plastic bottles to create a non-toxic habitat that encourages the growth of microbes and plants.

The islands, which look like giant brown sponges, also act as a buffer against wave action.

Saturday morning, after all the dignitaries and officials were introduced, the students and their volunteer leaders got down to actually planting hundreds of native plants into the floating islands, surrounding the plants with soil, and carrying the islands to the water’s edge.

“It is really cool to be down here making a difference,” said Abbi Collins, a fifth-grader at Holy Rosary Catholic School. “Louisiana is known for our great fishing and seafood, and hopefully, by building this new marsh, we will help that continue into the future. I’ve learned a lot today”

Volunteer boats pulled them out into the water to connect the floating islands to each other for the short float to their destination.

There was no talk of whether the effort would make a difference, or the high cost of a project designed to preserve only a small portion of our wetlands.

There were only the sounds of joy and excitement, of the kids jumping wholeheartedly into doing something good for all of us.

Sixth Grader Hailey Thibodeaux said simply that her efforts and that of her schoolmates are necessary to preserve not only the wetlands but also the seafood that we all enjoy.

”If the wetlands go, the fish, crabs, and shrimp my family and I like to eat will be gone too,” she said.

The work of the students and volunteers is in plain sight along the north side of Louisiana Hwy. 1 about two miles past Fourchon Road.

“This project connects the students to the problem and the solution. They’ll drive by here and say ‘I helped do that,’” said George Haye, Volunteer President of CCA.