Creating a sustainable future for the fish and wildlife habitat of coastal Louisiana and the entire Gulf Coast will require all the tools in the toolbox and a real commitment to restoration.
In Louisiana, to safeguard this natural resource for future generations of hunters and anglers, we must recognize that the land loss crisis is not caused by any one single factor. Instead, a variety of complex man-made and natural reasons have contributed to the vanishing coastline. Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, the state’s blueprint for coastal restoration and protection, outlines a suite of restoration solutions that re-connect the river to its delta through land-building sediment diversions, strategic use of dredged sediments to build and sustain wetlands and barrier islands and improved management of the Mississippi River.
Across the Gulf, estuaries – nursery grounds for fish and wildlife and important winter homes for waterfowl – are at risk. The rivers that flow into these estuaries have been dammed, leveed or diverted. Water quality has declined. Oyster reefs have been over-harvested. Wetlands and seagrass beds across the Gulf have been lost. Coastal habitats have been developed.
There’s no one solution to all these problems. Instead, we need a variety of restoration projects, working together, to rebuild habitat that has been lost and to sustain new habitat into the future.
Sediment diversions mimic nature’s historic land-building processes by using the power of the river to move sediment and fresh water into nearby basins. This project type can build new land and is critical for helping sustain new and existing wetlands. Sediment diversions provide a sustainable source of sand and mud over time to sustain nearby marsh creation, barrier island and ridge restoration projects.
Hydrologic restoration projects increase freshwater flows into wetlands or use structures to reduce saltwater intrusion. This project type can either prevent water stagnation in wetlands by restoring freshwater flows or help control salinity levels by blocking saltwater, which enhances the function of wetland habitat and prevents the die-off of freshwater vegetation. Hydrologic restoration projects can also help maintain optimal salinities needed for the success of other restoration projects, such as oyster reef and marsh restoration projects.
Marsh restoration projects rehabilitate existing marsh or build marsh in shallow open waters areas. This project type can improve the quality of marsh habitat and build new marsh habitat. Marsh creation can be used in combination with sediment diversions to help trap sediment. In turn, sediment diversions can benefit marsh creation projects by providing a long-term source of sediment that can help lengthen their lifespans.
Habitat protection projects conserve key parcels of coastal lands, such as important habitats around National Wildlife Refuges and State Coastal Preserves, in order to protect those habitats in perpetuity. Projects may directly purchase private lands through fee simple acquisition, or work with landowners to purchase conservation easements. Involving landowners in conservation easement purchase programs often allow additional restoration and enhancement opportunities on the property.
Living shoreline projects provide substrate for oyster colonization, while also creating nursery and foraging habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish. Furthermore, oyster reefs can improve water quality and protect marsh, seagrass, and shoreline habitats from further degradation, including shoreline erosion and damage from coastal storms.