Students Pitch In For Coastal Restoration

David A. Bourgeois, Bogren, Richard C.  |  4/19/2007 11:54:18 PM

Seventh-grade students from Montegut Middle School plant smooth cordgrass along the levee near Point Aux Chenes April 17. The plants will help protect the levee, part of the Morganza to the Gulf system, from erosion by waves and tides. The activity was part of the Coastal Roots program, which is coordinated by the LSU AgCenter and other partners and is designed to get students involved in saving Louisiana’s vanishing coastline.

News Release Distributed 04/19/07

POINT AUX CHENES – What once were pastures now are wetlands – with water where cattle used to graze.

"I’ve seen this change in my lifetime," said Herdis Neil as he stood beside a levee near Point Aux Chenes.

Neil, whose grandson is a seventh-grade student at Montegut Middle School, was serving as a chaperone as students planted smooth cordgrass near the water’s edge at the foot of the levee.

"It pains me to see this happen," Neil added.

The wetlands planting field trip Tuesday (April 17) at Point Aux Chenes with seventh-graders from Montegut Middle School was under the direction of their teacher, Cally Chauvin, and LSU AgCenter fisheries agent David Bourgeois.

"I appreciate you coming here and helping with this program," Bourgeois said to the students as they prepared to plant the marsh grass. "You’re part of our family."

The students were planting smooth cordgrass that was provided by the LSU AgCenter and produced at the AgCenter’s Rice Research Station in Crowley, Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois said the activity was part of the Coastal Roots program, a partnership that includes the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Sea Grant College program, the LSU Department of Education and various local government agencies. The Point aux Chenes activity was cosponsored by the Terrebonne Levee District and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

In addition to the support of the participating partners, Chauvin, who teaches life science at Montegut Middle School, was able to obtain a $1,000 field trip grant from Target Corp. to fund the local activity.

"This is great. This is wonderful," she said of the students’ participation. "This is their home. We’re going to plant this parish because we’re going to be here a while."

The students were enthusiastic, too.

"I was excited," student Colin Marts said about anticipating the field trip. "I wanted to be a part of this – to do whatever I can. This is our home, and we don’t want the coast to go away. We really need this coast, because Louisiana does so much for the United States’ economy."

Bourgeois said the students’ attitudes toward their environment have been enhanced by their participation in the Coastal Roots program.

"These students realize the potential of this project," he said. "And they’re doing it in their own backyards. "The most value is the stewardship they’re learning. They can learn it’s up to them to preserve this and protect their own homes."

Coastal Roots began in 1998 under the name "Grass Roots" in Lafourche Parish, said Bourgeois, who helped start the effort. "We started growing wetland plants from seeds in the schools to help some of the coastal erosion issue in this area," he said.

The LSU AgCenter Department of Horticulture and the Sea Grant program helped develop the educational program as a way to bring awareness of Louisiana’s vanishing coast into schools. Aimed at elementary and secondary school students, it helps young people learn to grow coastal plants and then place them in the wetlands to help prevent erosion.

The program also provides wetland plant and habitat educational materials to teachers and students. The lessons are designed to teach not only about wetland plants but also about the biology behind how wetland plants grow. Lesson topics include plant identification, wetland habitats, photosynthesis, composting, pollination, genetics, wetland soils and global warming.

Most of the plants serve to trap sediment on shorelines or levees, Bourgeois said. Plants at the water’s edge establish roots to help hold the soil, while other plants farther from the water provide a buffer zone to mitigate against losing soil to the effects of storm surge.

"This is one little piece to protect what we already have," said Jerome Zeringue with the Terrebonne Levee District.

Plants protect levees and provide habitat for the organisms that are essential to the area fisheries, Zeringue said. In addition, the levees provide hurricane protection for sections of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

"What the program is doing today helps protect the levee and the people living here," he added. "It’s what we need to provide the protection for the people and to provide something to come back to" should the population need to evacuate in the face of a hurricane.

The Coastal Roots program provides classroom educational opportunities along with the field trip activities, Bourgeois said. In most cases, students grow plants in the classroom during the winter and plant them into the marshes in the spring.

One group from Lafayette Middle School traveled to Grand Isle this past fall to gather seeds from black mangrove trees. They took the seeds back to their school and planted them.

This week (April 19) they’ll take the seedlings back to the Grand Isle area and plant them on Fifi Island, a small island north of Grand Isle. Its continuing deterioration poses a threat to Grand Isle by removing its buffering effect.

Winds from Hurricane Katrina came at Grand Isle from the north and seriously damaged Fifi Island, Bourgeois said. The island has been restored by pumping silt, and the Lafayette school group will aid in the restoration by planting the mangrove seedlings to protect the newly restored island from being washed away by waves and tides.

This week’s projects coincide with Youth Wetlands Week (April 16-20) activities being conducted across the state by the LSU AgCenter, Bourgeois said. Wetlands Week is an LSU AgCenter program designed to involve youth across the state in learning about the importance of wetlands.

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Contact: David Bourgeois at (985) 632-6852 or dbourgeois@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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