Louisiana to have 1st delta-dominated site in estuary system
Nine virtual town hall meetings –- three each about the Atchafalaya,Barataria and Pontchartrain basins -– have been scheduled in September to tell people statewide about the program and hear their thoughts.
Louisiana is among seven coastal states that are not part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System guided and largely paid for by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It’s the only Gulf Coast state without such a reserve, though variety is more important than state-by-state inclusion.
And Louisiana’s will be unique, said Joelle Gore, stewardship division chief of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management.
There’s a small delta in Alaska’s 372,000-acre (150,500-hectare) Kachemak Bay reserve and Alabama’s Weeks Bay reserve is within the extensive Mississippi River delta region, she said Friday.
But “the dominance of that system in Louisiana is unlike any other,” she said.
Estuaries are brackish bodies of water usually found where rivers meet the sea. The research reserve system is currently is made up of 29 estuaries in 23 states and Puerto Rico. It includes Great Lakes coastlines as well as those along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Kachemak Bay is the largest and Old Woman Creek in Ohio, at 573 acres (230 hectares), the smallest.
Twenty-one are participating in a study of what climate-driven water level increases are doing to marshes, Gore said.
She said Long Island Sound in Connecticut is likely to become the 30th reserve early next year. She said Wisconsin, which has one reserve along Lake Superior, is working to add a second in Lake Michigan, a different “biogeographic subregion.” That area and Louisiana’s are likely to be added in 2024 or 2025, she said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards applied to join the system in 2019 — something past administrations never got around to for one reason or another, Louisiana SeaGrant’s Robert Twilley said Friday. For instance, he said, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco was very interested, but Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, sending the estuary reserve system way down her priority list.
Twilley said Louisiana’s 75-member site selection committee considered six of the state’s coastal basins but ruled out three: southwest Louisiana’s Calcasieu Basin, the Terrebonne Basin and the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Calcasieu Basin included too little state-owned land, which is an important part of the state-federal partnerships, since state manages day-to-day operations, he said. The other two areas were ruled out because there was too great a chance that many of the associated wetlands would be gone by 2050, he said.
Louisiana has lost about 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of wetlands since the 1930s. The state has drawn up a 50-year, $50 billion coastal master plan to slow that loss. Work under that plan has so far been funded largely by settlements and fines from the BP oil spill, though that money is not near the proposed total.
“One of the things we’re very focused on” is ensuring that the site is one where research will enhance restoration under the master plan, said Kristin Ransom of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management in New Orleans.
Twilley said he’s excited that education and outreach are a major focus of the reserve system.
One thing setting it apart from programs such as SeaGrant is a requirement for a place where students on field trips and other visitors can learn about estuaries, and which also can serve as a jumping-off point for more extensive trips, he said.
He said the Pontchartrain Basin proposal offers a Pontchartrain Conservancy facility. Morgan City’s visitor center might serve as such a spot for the Atchafalaya Basin, as could the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve for the Barataria Basin, he said.