Reestablishment of a Chenier Ridge and Adjacent Marsh Habitats at PortFourchon, LA
In early 2001, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission fostered a partnership with other organizations to reestablish a chenier ridge and adjacent coastal marsh habitats in southeast Louisiana. This partnership was born from a desire to further the knowledge and expand the focus of habitat restoration in coastal Louisiana from purely a vision that supported marsh restoration to one that encompassed other natural landscape features. Louisiana’s unparalleled coastal wetland loss problem means dire consequences for many species of fish and wildlife. But of as equal importance or the distributary ridges and chenier ridges that too are being lost at an alarming rate.
© photo by Charlie Hohorst
These ridge habitats and associated wetlands are extremely important to many terrestrial animals including the millions of migrating Neotropical songbirds that cross the Gulf of Mexico in the spring each year on their way back to their breeding grounds in the eastern United States and Canada. This is especially true when migrating birds encounter inclement weather over the gulf. Exhausted birds, once reaching land, must feed and rest at the first land they encounter. That first land in many cases, are these cheniers.
This project involves pumping earthen material via hydraulic dredge and placed in shallow open water. Constructed in phases, each of the three components when finished will mean the restoration of over 100 acres of chenier ridge/marsh habitat that will encompass some 12,000 linear feet in length by 400 feet in width. Both phases one and two are currently under construction, representing the western reach of this project. Some areas have already been shaped to the desired geometry including both flanking marsh and ridge habitats. The marsh elevation was shaped at a plus 1.6 feet elevation with the crown of the ridge at a plus 8 feet. Both herbaceous grasses and woody plants that tolerate the harsh growing conditions of coastal Louisiana are currently being planted. Species of grasses being planted include smooth cordgrass, marshhay cordgrass, salt grass, and others. Woody plants that are being used include those that are known to be important to Neotropical migrant songbirds including live oak, red mulberry, hackberry, yaupon, and others.
Through a partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Plant Materials Center, we are evaluating many different species of plants to determine their ability to grow at different elevations and salinity concentrations. Lessons learned here can be applied to other similar coastal restoration projects.
This restoration project has occurred largely through the generous contributions/grants of numerous funding partners. Shell Oil Company, the most recent contributor to this project, has provided a substantial grant to the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and its Foundation that went directly to on the ground work. To date, project partners include the following: Greater Lafourche Port Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Shell Oil Company, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Gulf of Mexico Program, and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. Each of these partners has provided funding/labor resources to make this project a reality. The Nature Conservancy, Terrebonne Bird Club, and Orleans Audubon Society have also provided valuable input to the project. They bring a specific expertise, knowledge, and desire and have claimed a strong interest in seeing this project concept come to fruition.
Just recently identified as a sanctuary where no consumptive use is allowed, the area once finished will be one of the premier birding destinations in the State of Louisiana. Boardwalks, foot bridges, observation platforms, signage, and an interpretive center will be constructed to promote avian tourism at the site.