Louisiana’s iconic boot shape is disappearing rapidly. According to a recent news story on Matter highlighting how current maps are misrepresentative of the real shape of the state, erosion is putting the seafood industry at risk. Human attempts to hold the Mississippi River in place, along with rising global sea levels, and canals dug by the oil industry have damaged the shoreline, severely impacting marine health.
According to Brett Anderson, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and contributor to Matter, “The land is sinking, as the weight of a massive layer of mud compresses against the deep bedrock without any new sediment layers to maintain elevation and nourish the flora and fauna.”
In one effort to reverse the damage, Louisiana observes National Estuaries Week from September 20-27, 2014, in conjunction with 28 other estuary programs in the United States. The week includes volunteer restoration activities and an online photo-sharing display called Toast to the Coast.
According to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s proclamation for the event, 84 percent of Louisiana’s GDP is reliant on the health of the coastal watershed. The seafood industry in particular contributes nearly US$3 billion and accounts for one third of the seafood consumed in the contiguous United States, according to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board.
Jindal’s proclamation states the importance of protecting and restoring the estuaries, which are vital to marine habitat, filtration of pollutants, storm protection, economic production, and cultural preservation.
While not all efforts to restore the estuaries have been harmonious, the non-profit Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) along with others is planting more than 75,000 plugs of dune grass during Louisiana Estuary Week to help restore over five miles of shoreline that was impacted by Hurricane Rita in 2005.
The non-profit has also started the state’s first oyster shell recycling program this summer with US$1 million in funding from the global energy company Shell. The CRCL works with restaurants in New Orleans to collect oyster shells from diners.
Then, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) returns the oysters to reefs to provide a hard substrate. Until now, the LDWF has used crushed concrete and limestone to fill a shell deficit. According to the CRCL, more shell is removed from the coast than is returned. The CRCL estimates that the new program will return 1,500 tons of shell to the reefs each year.
The non-profit is taking small steps to restore the coastline. Nonetheless, oyster farmers remain concerned about certain measures in the state’s plan to restore the coast, and the boot shape of the coastline is still rapidly eroding. The oystermen have questioned the use of diversions in the state government’s Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast adopted in 2012. Diversions deposit sediment-filled water into the wetlands to create land.
“(Diversions) would result in water quality issues that would force oyster farms to move farther off-shore into open exposed waters which would be devastating to the oyster industry,” Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation wrote in a letter to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority during the public comment period for the plan.
But in the midst of discord, the CRCL’s recycling program can represent a move toward sustainability and a community partnership to remove food waste from landfills, restore oyster and marine life habitat, and celebrate good cultural food.
“We are blessed to have a busy Oyster Bar at Bourbon House and it’s a shame to see mineral rich shells go into the trash,” said restaurateur Dickie Brennan in a press release. “I was raised with the mantra ‘we need to leave it better than we found it.’”