Marsh Maneuvers students Erron Holland of Plaquemines Parish and Megan Albert of St. Martin Parish ride through the marsh at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Grand Chenier in an airboat piloted by Jeb Linscombe of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. (Photo by Bruce Schultz) Marsh Maneuvers Camp members plant grasses in the marshes. (Photo by Bruce Schultz) David Templet, at right, and Trett Bourgeois, center, both of Ascension Parish, get a look at juvenile white trout caught in a shrimp trawl as Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter coastal specialist, explains the role of the fish in the ecosystem. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)
Teach the young the value of Louisiana’s coastline and marshes, and they’ve learned a lesson for a lifetime. That’s the philosophy behind the LSU AgCenter’s annual series of Marsh Maneuvers camps. These summer 4-H campus offer unique opportunities to mix fun with education – and in the end, help save our coast.
Since 1990, each week in July four parishes send four 4-H'ers to Marsh Maneuvers camp on the coast of Louisiana to learn about the benefits of the coastal marsh areas and its marine ecosystem.
During the four-day camp, the young people learn about coastal ecology and the biology of the coastal area. The camp highlights the coastal erosion problem, and the students discuss the solutions being proposed by state and federal agencies, said Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter aquaculture and coastal resources specialist.
“While there are only about 64 4-H'ers at camp each summer, the effect multiplies once these students get back home and share their experience with their family and friends, people at school and people in their communities,” Shirley said.
The kids are chosen by their 4-H agents. Where there are too many kids who want to come, the agents have candidates write essays and go through interviews to pick the top four students.
The coast serves a vast array of functions from protecting inland areas against storms to the coastal marshes’ role in food production. As part of the camp, Shirley stresses that coastal erosion is not just a Louisiana problem, but also is a national problem.
"More than 40 percent of the natural gas that’s used in the United States comes through Louisiana via a pipeline somewhere across the Louisiana coast," he said. "Coastal erosion affects everybody in the nation."
This camp is conducted at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge near Grand Chenier.
In addition to lectures and videos on the different types of marine life in the marsh, the students also get practical real life experience during their four-day stay at the camp. Some of the activities the students are involved in include:
· An airboat ride through the marsh to look at the different plant and animal life.
· A trip down the canals in a smaller boat to troll for shrimp and other types of fish in the coastal waters.
· The opportunity to touch a live alligator.
· A walking tour through the marsh at night with flashlights to watch and listen to marine animals in their natural habitat.
What Kids Say
Attending Marsh Maneuvers in 2007 gave Keith Espadron of Port Sulphur a better understanding of why Louisiana's coastline is washing away. Espadron's family lived in Venice before Hurricane Katrina. Since the storm, they moved to Port Sulphur. "The coast is part of my daily life," Espadron said.“I liked planting marsh grass to prevent erosion,” said Josh Gooding from Lafayette (2004 camp).
Frederickia Jackson from West Ouachita High School said of the 2005 camp that she would recommend it to anyone over 8th grade. "We’ve been fishing and crabbing and learning about different animals on the coast. When we finish a project, we write in our journals what we did and what we learned. We’ve learned a lot about coastal erosion. For example, we saw where they put down sticks last year, and where they were stationed is now taken over by water."
“I liked riding the air boat and getting close to the fish and wildlife,” said Austin Burns from Caldwell Parish (2004 camp).
“We planted some spartina grass,” said Alfred Young from East Carroll Parish (2003 camp). “The spartina is supposed to grow and keep the sediment from washing out when the tides come in and help rebuild the land.”
Marsh Maneuvers teaches young people valuable lessons that they will carry with them the rest of their lives:
–No matter what part of the state you are from, the marsh affects you – from oil and gas transportation to seafood and storm surge protection.
–What you learn about the coast you need to pass on to others – in school and to civic groups when you return home; you are an ambassador for restoration of the coastal marshes.
–Coastal erosion affects the entire country; it’s not just a Louisiana problem.
–It’s important for the ecosystem to keep the alligator and other marine life populations healthy. Maintaining the alligator population is a lot like the management of trees on tree farms. Each year a certain number of alligators have to be harvested to keep the population in balance.
For further information on Marsh Maneuvers, contact Mark Shirley at (337) 898-4335.
The LSU AgCenter is one of 11 institutions in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing rural areas and the environment, and improving the quality of life through its family and 4-H youth programs.