Marsh makes learning fun

Mark Shirley, Schultz, Bruce  |  8/14/2008 11:28:03 PM

Austin Mouton of Vermilion Parish, a 4-H student participating in Marsh Maneuvers, plants marsh grass near Avery Island. (Photo by Bruch Schultz. Click on photo for downloadable image.)

News Release Distributed 08/14/08

Participating in Marsh Maneuvers was like “boot camp” for 16-year-old Austin Mouton, a 4-H student from Erath High School, who said the activities meshed with his career plans in wildlife management.

“This fits perfectly with what I want. I’m having a fabulous time,” Mouton said, dripping wet after he and the 15 other Marsh Maneuvers students transplanted vegetation to rebuild marsh near Avery Island recently.

The Marsh Maneuvers program comprises four one-week sessions each summer that bring 4-H youths from across the state to the Louisiana coast to get immersed in a marine environment.

The youth said he became interested in coastal ecology after planting marsh grass at Constance Beach in Cameron Parish two years ago.

Mouton said his father raised him with the experiences of fishing and hunting in the marsh, and he has seen the effects of coastal erosion.

“It just hurts me to see what’s going on with the marsh,” he said. “I’ve seen it in the 10 years I’ve been going here. It’s a shame people don’t realize it.”

Mouton is active in 4-H, the youth development and outreach program operated in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter. He participated in 4-H University and serves on the 4-H executive committee.

This summer he also attended the science-intensive Louisiana Outdoor Science and Technology Camp at the Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center the first week of August.

Stormy weather caused by Hurricane Dolly forced a change of plans during the second day of the week Mouton attended Marsh Maneuvers. That meant an airboat ride in the marsh had to be put off for another day.

“Instead, we played with baby alligators and we went to Holly Beach,” said 4-H student Le Ellen Fauntleroy of St. Tammany Parish.

Marsh Maneuvers gives students an up-close look at the coastal ecology, said Mark Shirley, an LSU AgCenter fisheries agent in charge of the program. This year marked the program’s second decade.

Shirley said the program has been modified through the years, but the focus on the coastal area remains.

“They learn the biology of the coastal environment with the different types of plants and animals, water chemistry, vegetation types – all the different things that affect plant and animal life,” he said of the youths who attend Marsh Maneuvers. “Then they can appreciate how the resources are produced here and how we manage the resources.”

Just because youths are from Louisiana doesn’t mean they are familiar with the coastal region of the state, Shirley said. “A lot of them have only been to the beaches in Florida or Galveston,” he added.

Shirley said the turbid waters of Holly Beach, with 4- to 6-foot waves, demonstrated the power of a hurricane hundreds of miles away.

“It was a good illustration of how a storm, whether it’s a depression or a hurricane, can stir up the Gulf and dissipate the hypoxic zone,” Shirley said.

He said one of the lessons taught in Marsh Maneuvers focuses on the Mississippi River watershed and how it carries nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico. Those nutrients ultimately cause plant material in the Gulf to decompose and lower offshore oxygen levels.

Each summer, Marsh Maneuvers brings 4-H’ers from 16 parishes in four groups of 16 for four days of intensive education about the Louisiana coast.

Funding is provided by the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and America’s Wetlands Conservation Corps.

The McIlhenny Corp. hosted the marsh grass-planting activity.

The students removed a few clumps of giant bullwhip plants from an area along Bayou Petite Anse, where the vegetation was thriving and transplanted them in a nearby unused oilfield canal. A similar project done during last year’s Marsh Maneuvers is now filled with thick, lush growth, and cattails also have taken root.

Coastal consultant Randy Moertle of Lockport said he arranges grant funding for wetlands projects, and Marsh Maneuvers dovetails perfectly with coastal restoration projects funded by state and federal agencies.

“This is the best,” Moertle said. “It’s really a good thing to open awareness across the state.”

Amy Long-Pierre, an LSU AgCenter 4-H leader in St. Tammany Parish, accompanied her four students to Marsh Maneuvers. It was her first time to venture into the marsh of Southwest Louisiana.

She said her students are familiar with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, but Marsh Maneuvers gave them the chance to see the impact of Hurricane Rita.

“To be able to see it up close really gives them a better perspective,” Long-Pierre said.

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Contact: Mark Shirley at (337) 898-4335 or mshirley@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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