Mark Shirley, Savoie, Kevin A., Chaney, John A. | 4/19/2005 10:29:14 PM
GRAND CHENIER – Young people from various areas of Louisiana are venturing to coastal Louisiana again this summer for the adventures and education provided by the LSU AgCenter’s Marsh Maneuvers program.
The four-day Marsh Maneuvers camps provide 4-H youth and others with the opportunity to witness and study the life and diversity of coastal organisms, as well as how those creatures and plants depend on each other for survival, in the wetlands of Southwest Louisiana.
The young people who participate in the program each summer learn about the life cycles of marine organisms, witness the diversity of fish and wildlife species, study the economic and environmental importance of the species found in the coastal zone and learn about job opportunities created by coastal commerce. It’s done by literally letting them "get their feet wet" in the coastal waters on such adventures as netting fish and discussing the species or planting marsh grasses to try to stem coastal erosion.
Held this year at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Grand Chenier near the coast in Cameron Parish, the Marsh Maneuvers camps were conducted for a different group each week in July.
Each Marsh Maneuvers session brought together 16 students from four different parishes of the state – meaning more than 60 young people from 16 parishes got to participate this year. The camps operate on a schedule that rotates parishes that get to participate each year, and it tries to mix students from both urban and rural parishes.
The intensive educational experience involves in-field sessions taught by faculty from the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
"Coastal wetlands and marshes are the breeding grounds for most recreational and commercial fish species in the Gulf of Mexico," said LSU AgCenter fisheries agent Mark Shirley. "We are teaching these young people about life cycles, habitat requirements and management of these fisheries resources."
The 4-H members also learned to test water for salinity and dissolved oxygen and witnessed how these parameters affect aquatic life. And they studied the coastal water and wind currents and learned how they cause soil to be deposited in some locations on the coast while other areas lose ground.
In addition, the students participated in a beach restoration project near Johnson Bayou by planting grass along the beach to trap windblown sand. The resulting sand dune will then help protect the beach and the coastal highway from washing away.
"These grasses were planted on Earth Day, and notice how they are holding sand and building beaches," LSU AgCenter watershed agent Kevin Savoie said while pointing out some previously planted grass and explaining the importance of the work Marsh Maneuvers participants were doing this summer.
"These coastal grasses are unique because they catch sand as the wind blows," Savoie explained, adding, "As the sand accumulates on the roots, the plants continue to grow new roots and leaves and offer even more protection for the marshes."
Savoie told participants they were planting another row of coastal grasses to catch sand, build beaches and protect the coastal marshes from salt water.
"I liked planting marsh grass to prevent erosion," said Josh Gooding from Lafayette.
While returning from grass planting and waiting on the ferry to cross the Calcasieu Ship Channel, the group witnessed a large number of ships and boats transporting products to support the commerce of southwestern Louisiana. The vessels transport products to support the oil, fish, petrochemical and other industries in the area.
"It is important for young people to know the importance of maintaining a balance between the environment and commerce," Shirley said of the experience. "The vessels operating in the ship channel represent a lot of jobs for the people in the coastal parishes."
Another adventure for the group was learning about the recreational fishing opportunities, diversity of fish populations and shore birds near the coast.
It is truly amazing to watch these young people eat crabs as they follow the instructions of Shirley, a professional crab peeler. Consuming fish from the marsh is another adventure of the Marsh Maneuvers experience.
"I liked riding the air boat and getting close to the fish and wildlife," said Austin Burns from Caldwell Parish "I saw lots of alligators, birds, rabbits, deer and fish."
Participants were tested at the beginning of each Marsh Maneuvers session on their knowledge of coastal ecology and environmental issues. Then, the same test was given after the four days of studying the marsh – to determine the knowledge gained from the educational experience. Test scores improved about 12 percent, according to instructors.
This summer students from Avoyelles, Caldwell, Iberia, Jefferson, Lafayette, LaSalle, Lincoln, Livingston, Natchitoches, Orleans, St. Helena, St. Landry, St. Tammany, Tensas and Vermilion parishes participated in Marsh Maneuvers.
"The opportunity to attend Marsh Maneuvers is rotated among all parishes so 4-H members from throughout the state have a chance to learn about life on the coast," said Shirley.
Marsh Maneuvers is sponsored by a grant from the Louisiana Fur and Alligator Council and is operated by the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Sea Grant Program.
For more information on Marsh Maneuvers, contact Shirley at (337) 898-4355 or call your parish LSU AgCenter office.