After an exhilarating airboat ride through the marsh, Keith Espadron of Port Sulphur ambled up to the beach, shell fragments crunching under his feet, and gazed out at the muddy shoreline that once was grass-covered marsh.
The outing was one of several for 4-H’ers participating in the LSU AgCenter’s Marsh Maneuvers camp at the state’s Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.
It was apparent to Espadron that the shoreline of mud and sand along the Louisiana coast is changing.
“How far has this beach eroded?” Espadron asked.
“The shells have been pushed back quite a ways. Several feet in just the past year,” said Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter coastal specialist and organizer of the camps, which have been held annually since 1989.
Tom Hess, biologist for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, explained to the students that the coastline along Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge recedes 40 feet a year in some places.
“You see the marsh grass at the edge of the Gulf? That was land a year ago,” Hess said, adding that Hurricane Frances claimed 65 feet in 1 998 and that Hurricane Rita caused about the same amount of damage in 2005.
The difficulty of protecting the Southwest Louisiana coastline is complicated by a 40-foot-thick layer of mud and sediment that prevents the use of rock jetties to control erosion, Hess said. “We can’t use rocks here because they would just sink into the mud,” he explained.
Living in Plaquemines Parish, Espadron is all too familiar with coastal erosion.
“It’s part of my daily life,” the 4-H’er said.
Espadron’s family lived in Venice before Hurricane Katrina. Since the storm, they moved to Port Sulphur.
Attending Marsh Maneuvers gave Espadron a better understanding of why Louisiana’s coastline is washing away.
Marsh Maneuvers is a four-week program each summer that brings 4-H youths from across the state to the Louisiana coast to get immersed in a marine environment. Fourteen 4-H members from Ascension, St. Bernard, St. Martin and Plaquemines parishes attended the weeklong session July 16-20, 2007.
(This article was published in the summer 2007 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)