Floating islands a major player in Louisiana marsh restoration

7 November 2012

Round One to the Volunteers


Floating Islands habitat project marks impressive progress rebuilding Louisiana marsh. 

ONE OF THE MORE innovative projects under- taken so far by the CCA Building Conservation Habitat Program is the Floating Islands marsh restoration project in Louisiana. Viewed as a potentially better, cheaper way to rebuild marsh, the Floating Islands concept is outperforming all expectations.

In September of 2011, CCA members, students from nearby Pointe-aux-Chenes Elementary School, Shell employees and members of a local Native American tribe gathered for a few hours of hard labor planting thousands of plugs of marsh grass into matrixes of recycled plastic. The matrix, developed by Martin Ecosystems, is an 8- to 10-inch thick slab of lightweight recycled plastic about 5 feet by 8 feet with holes drilled in it to hold up to 60 seagrass plugs. The individual islands are then linked together, towed to a site and anchored to the seafloor. The matrix allows the plants to grow a root system to the sea floor, trapping sediments and eventually tying into and strengthening the remaining marsh. The volunteers created 195 islands — equivalent to 1,560 linear feet of freshly planted, floating marsh — ready for placement at four sites around Isle de Jean Charles, an area where just slivers of natural marsh remain due to severe erosion. The project used two types of vegetation — smooth cord grass and seashore pasplaum — and at the time of planting the plants were anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet in height.

“The ultimate goal is to find a way to increase the amount of marsh we have by tying these new plants into existing marsh,” said John Walther, chairman of CCA Louisiana’s Habitat Committee. “We’re going to fight to take our marsh back one foot at a time.”

In this battle to save and rebuild marsh around Isle de Jean Charles, it looks like the volunteers have won round one. A monitoring survey in May 2012 found that the plants in the floating islands were even healthier and greener than the surrounding marsh. In many places the matrix was completely covered by the flourishing seagrass, with some plants now 3 to 4 feet tall. Even more exciting, the plants are expanding beyond the edges of the matrix, spreading laterally toward the adjacent natural marsh.

“I think we have created a great footprint for future projects along our disappearing coastline and in our marshes,” said Ryan Richard, president of CCA Louisiana’s Bayou Chapter and a key volunteer in the project. “This effort is a first of its kind. We introduced these floating islands to a very harsh environment of open water where they have never been deployed before. They were planted in September, which is not exactly growing season, and yet they are doing great. The people of our community should be proud to drive down Island Road to see the progress. We are confident this succes

The CCA Building Conservation Habitat Program and the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government each gave $50,000 for the project, Entergy Corporation gave $30,000 and America’s Wetland provided $10,000 in logistical support.

“CCA’s Building Conservation program was created to provide vital funding for innovative, grassroots driven projects just like this,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA National. “The floating islands project is another example of what can be accomplished with the successful collaboration of business, non-profit organizations and government agencies.”

The CCA habitat program received a $1.5 million donation over three years from Shell Oil Company in 2010. Through matching funds efforts, the CCA habitat program established almost $1 million in habitat restora- tion and creation funding in 2011 for the floating islands project, the Independence Island Reef in Barataria Bay, the Mid-Coast Reef in Texas and the Bayou Cour Reef in Mobile Bay.

For more information on the CCA Building Conservation Habitat Program, visit JoinCCA.org.

By Ted Venker


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