A SWAMP THING – VOLUNTEERS TAKE TO THE MARSH TO RECONSTITUTE AN HISTORIC BALD CYPRESS WETLAND

You may call them volunteers, civic soldiers, or community caregivers but they all have something in common – a desire to give back to the place they call home for a better future. America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) called for volunteers to join with e-Rotary Coastal in planting a thousand Bald Cypress trees to reconstitute an historic wetland forest and it brought out the best in people and provided a ray of hope in the battle against the rising tide in South Louisiana.

When a call went out for volunteers in January for a February 9, 2019, planting in the Pointe-aux-Chenes area south of Houma, the AWF website was busy with interest. As part of its Terrebonne Biodiversity and Resiliency Projects, AWF teamed up with global energy company, BHP and a nationally recognized wetlands restoration company with local roots, Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) to restore 100 acres of an historic Cypress-Tupelo swamp that has succumbed to salt water intrusion and in turn created a threat to low lying communities in Terrebonne Parish and important wildlife habitats.

“BHP believes that giving back to the communities where we operate is a key factor in doing business. Through this project, we know that strengthening the ecosystem provides a wide range of benefits at a time when the region is challenged and needs the cooperation of all sectors,” Myron Protz, General Manager for the Gulf of Mexico, of BHP, said.

With the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a partner, the site was prepared for volunteers to get muddy planting trees that will help add 30,000 Bald Cypress to the wetlands area, enhancing biodiversity in the region.

“It seems this event appealed to all segments of the population,” AWF managing director Val Marmillion, said. “Beyond the Rotarians, a number of civic organizations, youth clubs, scouting troops, and entire families registered for the planting challenge.” Marmillion noted that one email received was truly heartwarming and poignant:

“I love the area, and would like to help out in any way I can. I am an older woman, so not exactly burly or strong, but am mobile and love any kind of gardening/earthy work. I have another friend my age who might be interested as well, if you’re accepting non-youthful folks!”

This spirit of hope and dedication to the land that has hosted generations of Louisianans is a part of the Foundation’s drive to encourage private sector participation and support for restoration projects in its recently announced Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX).

The LCX was launched at a statewide summit co-sponsored by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities in November of 2018. The Exchange is an inventory of completed privately funded projects and those available for funding, proposed by local governments or non-profit organizations.

The Pointe-aux-Chenes and Bayou Terrebonne projects are listed on the Exchange, as well as a demonstration project AWF sponsored two years ago that is thriving along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The one-mile embankment stabilization north of LaRose, Louisiana, utilizes innovative technology with recycled plastics to form a grid for planting native species and holding the line against storm surges and wave attenuation that pulsed salt water into fresh water marshes along the Waterway.

New Orleans State Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore of the House, Walt Leger, and Representative Jerome Zeringue of Terrebonne Parish, serve as the honorary chairs of the LCX and have called on business, industry, private land owners and the non-profit sector to embrace the Exchange as a way to secure the future economy of the region and the communities and ecosystems that support a unique way of life in the region.

“This project demonstrates that private industry and organizations can work together for coastal restoration solutions that may not be a part of a larger master plan funded with public dollars,” Sidney Coffee, AWF senior advisor, said. “We call projects like the Terrebonne projects, transitional; they are necessary for ecosystem stabilization and consistent with state restoration efforts but not prioritized for funding in the plan.”

For the hundreds who volunteered, each left with a Bald Cypress tree to plant at home, donated by RES. “Our belief is that healthy wetlands, when restored through nature-based practices and properly protected, can provide the unique biodiversity necessary to support our coastal communities. We can, and we must, do more to protect the Louisiana coastal environment,” said Elliott Bouillion, CEO of RES

The unique partnership for the planting between AWF and eRotary Coastal Club moves into a more involved phase with the club encouraging active involvement of the community in coastal restoration. “We are, first, a service organization dedicated to our communities. To be a part of calling volunteers together for a worthwhile community benefit is part of why we exist. Our e-Rotary Coastal club invites anyone interested in restoring our coast to join in on the effort of a lifetime,” club president, Charles Gaiennie, said.

To see the press release with images go here…