America's WETLAND Volunteers Plant "Floating Islands" to Save Louisiana's Native American Lands From Disappearing

Sep 23, 2011, 11:00 ET from America's WETLAND Foundation

Restoration Project Uses New Technology to Preserve Unique Culture

ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES, La., Sept. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Hundreds of volunteers helped launch 187 "floating islands" in a demonstration project of new technology to protect the area south of Houma, Louisiana, that is considered to be "ground zero" for coastal land loss in America.

The islands offer promise, not only to protect existing land against eroding wave action, but also as a means of building new land in shallow open waters in an area that has suffered some of the nation's greatest loss of land.

The America's WETLAND Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Shell, Entergy, and the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government teamed up to sponsor the demonstration project that backers feel holds promise as a new weapon in stopping coastal erosion.  Isle de Jean Charles has gained national recognition because Native Americans who have fished the Gulf waters for many generations have been told by the federal government that their land is outside the levee alignment under construction as part of the Morganza to the Gulf Hurricane Protection Project.

"Louisiana's Native American communities have lost so much land that a part of the state's historical heritage is threatened," said Valsin A. Marmillion, managing director of the America's WETLAND Foundation.  "Our America's Energy Coast Task Force adopted a 'no net loss of culture' standard, calling on policy makers to ensure that coastal restoration includes maintaining our rich native culture.  If we lose this land, it will be an American tragedy.  This is a demonstration of a new technology but also of caring, sending the message that we must rally and take action when the government turns its back on historic communities," Marmillion said.

Martin Ecosystems of Baton Rouge, the company that is installing the islands with the help of volunteers from Entergy, Shell, CCA, Brown and Caldwell, local 4-H club members, Bayou Faith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), Bayou Grace Community Services, Pointe Aux Chene Elementary, Montegut Middle School, Future Leaders of America's Gulf (FLAG), Sassafras Louisiana and the local Native American tribes, will monitor the effectiveness of the islands over the next year.

"This is a very good demonstration project," said Nicole Martin Waguespack, spokesperson for Martin Ecosystems. "This is the first project we have done with so much community support, and it's a larger scale project than we have done in the past."

The five-by-eight-foot islands were planted with 40-60 native plants by volunteers, then anchored end-to-end for 1,500 feet next to remaining marshes on the thin strip of road that leads to Isle de Jean Charles, south of Houma.  The plants will set roots into the water bottoms, forming traps for land-building sediments. Several islands will be stacked away from shore to test their ability to build land in open water.

The floating islands create a man made ecosystem that mimics naturally occurring wetlands.  They are made of 100% recycled plastic bottles which have been found to be safe for marine life, Coast Guard approved marine foam for buoyancy, held in place on a PVC pipe frame.

"This is the first site where we will have islands off by themselves," Waguespack said.  "In our previous installation, along the banks of Bayou Sauvage, we are already seeing plants jump off the island and set roots after three months. This is going to be a good test for the effectiveness of the floating islands to generate new vegetation and new land."

Terrebonne Parish Government is enthusiastic about the potential, said Nick Matherne, Director of Coastal Restoration and Preservation. "This is a demonstration to see if these islands can be used to build land in shallow, open waters," he said. "If successful, the area around the islands will strengthen and flourish, and this could serve as a model for sustainable land mass," Matherne said. "The islands have already performed well protecting the South Lafourche levee."

"For this restoration event we chose a community with a strong cultural past and American tribal tradition to demonstrate that the war on coastal land loss must continue at all levels," said Marmillion.  "This isn't all about levees for protection; it is helping to nurture the natural ecosystem to create multiple lines of offense for long term systemic solutions."

From 2007-2010, America's WETLAND Conservation Corps members and volunteers contributed in excess of 70,000 service hours while completing almost 300 restoration projects with more than 8,300 volunteers. The members and the volunteers planted tens of thousands of marsh grass, plants and trees in communities as diverse as Avery Island, Jean Lafitte Wildlife Refuge, Baton Rouge, Pointe Aux Chene, Kaplan, Lake Charles, Port Fourchon, Creole, Grand Isle, Ruston, Shreveport, New Orleans, Gonzales, Lafayette, St. Bernard, Holly Beach, Thibodaux, Houma, Schriever, Gum Springs, Bayou Sauvage, Pilottown, Bayou St. John and many others. 

The America's WETLAND Foundation will host a two-day Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities forum, beginning Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 12:30 p.m. for local leaders and stakeholders at the Houma Courtyard by Marriott. Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach, a passionate advocate for preserving Louisiana's unique cultures, and others will address the issues facing coastal communities.  The Foundation is holding Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities forums in 12 communities across the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to assess local vulnerabilities and strengthen the regional voice in planning for a resilient future, environmentally, culturally, and economically.  

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SOURCE America's WETLAND Foundation