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Students and community volunteers build new marsh in Vermilion Bay

Posted at 2:26 PM, Apr 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-12 15:26:38-04

On Friday, more than 100 school students from AMIkids, Catholic High New Iberia and 4-H Clubs joined volunteers from Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Louisiana and Shell Oil to build Phase II of the Floating Islands Restoration Project near Cypremort Point in Vermilion Bay.

The project was spearheaded by CCA Louisiana’s five local chapters (Sugar, Acadiana, Cajun, Vermilion and Southside) along with CCA’s National Habitat Program, the Building Conservation Trust.

Students and adult volunteers met early Friday at the Cypremort Point State Park where they planted roughly 2,500 square feet of new wetland habitat.  They planted three types of native plants, including mangrove, seashore paspalum and smooth cord grass, into 8-foot by 20-foot BioHaven Floating Islands.  From there the islands were deployed into the water and towed a short distance by boat to be anchored to the water bottom just south of Quintana Canal.

The “islands” for Friday’s project were created using recycled plastic bottles from the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

“The work you are doing today will help rebuild and preserve our coast for generations to come,” said CCA Louisiana President John Walther as he addressed the volunteers. “Louisiana is in a state of crisis, losing habitat across our coast at an alarming rate.  By being here today, you have chosen to do something about that, and make a positive difference.”

Walther continued, “In addition, the new land you are building today will become great new habitat for fish and other marine life, and should become a great place to go fishing.  One day, you will be in the water with your family, see these islands, and take pride in the fact that you helped build them.”

Students and faculty from AMI Kids were excited to be part of such an impactful project.

“This is an amazing experience for our students,” said Dr. John Rainey, Board Member of AMI Kids and CCA Life Member.  “The opportunity to work with CCA and the other volunteers on such a fun project while making a difference for our coast is something they will never forget.”

Katy Benson, a 4th grade science teacher from Catholic High New Iberia, agreed.

“Our kids are having a blast today, and are actually helping to rebuild our eroding marshland with their hard work,” she said.  “They learn about coastal erosion in our science classes at school, and today they are out here helping to fix it.  It’s awesome.  This is service learning at its best.”

4-H Explorers Club members from East Feliciana and East Baton Rouge made the trip over to lend a hand as well.

“This is the first project we’ve ever worked on like this, and I already can’t wait for the next one,” said Dr. Jonathan Roberts with 4-H.  “What an experience this is for our students.  Thank you to CCA, Shell and all of the project partners who made this possible”

Once the work was completed, volunteers from M & A Safety provided a delicious fried fish lunch for all the participants.

This is the fifth project of this type spearheaded by CCA Louisiana in recent years. The first was Phase I of the Isle deJean Charles Project in Point Aux Chenes, completed in 2011. Phase II of the Isle deJean Charles project followed in 2013. In 2015, CCA and partners joined forces to build more than 1000 linear feet of islands off Highway 1 near Grand Isle. In all, nearly 25,000 square feet of new marsh has been created by CCA and their partners to create habitat and fortify marshland that had been devastated by years of erosion and storms. These projects are the first to use this technology, developed by Martin EcoSystems, in an open-water marine environment application. In some cases, the “floating island marsh” has even outperformed the surrounding natural marsh.

“It makes me so proud to be part of an organization like CCA who has become the Louisiana leader in building marine habitat,” said Chad Courtois of the CCA Sugar chapter.  “A lot of groups talk about getting things done, but CCA actually follows through, as evidenced by all of the habitat we’ve built over the past few years.  And there plenty more to come.”

Funding for the Cypremort Point project was provided by CCA’s Building Conservation Trust, Shell Oil, Entergy and Martin Ecosystems along with donations by individual CCA members. Youth volunteers are coordinated by the CCA Louisiana Youth Outreach program in partnership with the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation and the Magistro Family Foundation.

“CCA and the Building Conservation Trust are so blessed to have partners like Shell who make our extensive habitat work possible,” said CCA Louisiana Executive Director David Cresson.  “Having all of the kids and volunteers out here today actually building new land for Louisiana is absolutely wonderful, and none of it would be possible without the commitment of our partners.”

In all, this is 28th habitat project completed in recent years by CCA Louisiana and their partners, including 23 artificial reefs and 5 marsh planting projects, at a total cost of nearly $10 million.  CCA Louisiana’s next habitat projects will include expansion to the “Big Jack Reef” in Big Lake and a new reef in South Marsh Island Block 233, to be called the “Ted Beaullieu, Sr. Reef.”  Both of these projects should take place in the coming months.