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Restoring the Barrier Islands of Louisiana’s Barataria Bay
From planning to execution, NOAA Fisheries has been critical in rebuilding a key 19-mile expanse of the Barataria Bay barrier island chain in Louisiana. Barataria Bay is currently facing many threats to its diverse and productive ecosystem. This area was severely affected by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and is experiencing one of the highest wetland loss rates in Louisiana.
One of the most prevalent forces at work in the Gulf Region where Barataria Bay is located is subsidence, or sinking of the land. This occurs as a result of natural geologic processes and is thought to be exacerbated by channelization of the Mississippi River. As a result, and coupled with the impacts of climate change, the region has one of the highest sea level rise rates in the entire country. Recent evidence also indicates an increase in storm severity as global sea surface temperatures increase—stronger storms mean greater erosion of coastal areas and barrier islands.
Under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), NOAA works in partnership with the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration on large-scale projects to restore its barrier islands and their associated benefits.
Covering approximately six miles of shoreline and contributing more than 900 acres of restored dune and marsh habitat, the Pass la Mer to Pass Chaland and the Pass Chaland to Grand Bayou Pass Projects were built in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Sand and sediment were dredged from several miles offshore, pumped along the shoreline, and then shaped by powerful earth moving equipment. Fencing and vegetative plantings helped stabilize the newly rebuilt beach and dunes.
These restoration projects are monitored for 20 years for changes in elevation, vegetation type, and abundance. Project assessments are conducted through both the CWPPRA program and Louisiana’s Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring Program, resulting in critical data regarding barrier island changes. Although it is too early to assess the full impact of these projects, aerial photographs taken after project completion show islands with dunes, beach, and marsh where once there was only open water.
Future Barrier Island Projects
Other projects for this island chain could be underway soon. Pelican Island should start construction before the fall of 2011 and two adjacent projects (Scofield Island and Chenier Ronquille) are currently in the advanced stage of design and could start construction once funds are secured. In total, these five projects represent an investment of more than $140 million in coastal defense and habitat restoration.
While not in the Barataria Bay system, NOAA is also the federal sponsor for the West Belle Pass Barrier Island Project. This island is in eastern Terrebonne Bay and provides critical protection to Port Fourchon, a nationally important oil and gas resource, and helps maintain the stability of Grand Isle, the only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana and key recreational fishing resource.