D.C. students travel to La. for wetland restoration project

Tobie Blanchard  |  5/3/2013 1:37:22 AM

News Release Distributed 05/02/13

NORCO, La. – On an unseasonably cold day in late April, a group of high school students from Washington, D.C., got into Lake Pontchartrain to help save the wetlands that border it.

Rumya Ravi was one of 13 10th-graders on a service-learning field trip from Washington International School to learn about and help restore Louisiana’s wetlands.

“We didn’t know that the salt water intruding on the fresh water was such a problem,” Ravi said. “We didn’t know that the coastline was disappearing this dramatically.”

The students were working with the LSU AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands Program along a section of Lake Pontchartrain in St. Charles Parish near where Interstate 10 crosses over the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

Using a special planting shovel called a dibble, Youth Wetlands agent Mindy McCallum Brooks demonstrated how to plant smooth cordgrass – a plant typically found in Louisiana marshes. It can tolerate both fresh water and salt water and is ideal for rejuvenating eroding wetlands.

“It will basically build the land by holding onto the dirt and increasing the amount of dirt that stays in the area where the land is,” Brooks said.

Working in teams, the students planted 1,000 plugs of smooth cordgrass.

The wetland planting was just one part of a trip designed to help the youths understand the importance of Louisiana’s coast. The students also visited the Bonne Carre Spillway, toured the Caernarvon Diversion, which diverts fresh water from the Mississippi River into marshes, and what was the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

They also learned about restoration projects from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

“Our estuary system in Louisiana is really the breeding ground for 90 percent of the seafood that is commercially caught in the Gulf of Mexico, so it’s important that people in the rest of the nation know how important Louisiana is for them, for seafood, for energy, for transportation of goods,” said Chuck Perrodin, the public information officer with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Perrodin said he hoped the students would return home and let others know that restoring Louisiana’s coast is possible.

These students had classmates working on other service projects with Habitat for Humanity and the Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans. But Trevor Moore was happily working hip-deep in Lake Pontchartrain, planting long rows of cordgrass with the hum of the Interstate behind him.

“I chose wetland restoration because for me, the coast is really important, and I’ve worked on other service projects outside in the environment like this,” Moore said.

“I’ve never been to a place like this before. It’s amazing. I really fell in love with it,” Ravi said.

Tobie Blanchard
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