By Paul C. Focazio, Web Content Manager, New York Sea Grant
New York Sea Grant’s (NYSG) Long Island Sound Educator, Larissa Graham, and Web Content Manager, Paul C. Focazio, are joining about a dozen educators and teachers from the New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) for a five-day trip to south Louisiana to learn about plant restoration efforts and talk with experts about tidal wetlands loss [the group is pictured below in (1)]. This is the second year that NYSG and NYSMEA have partnered for this in-the-field experience.
About a dozen educators join NYSMEA and NYSG this year for the trip to south Louisiana. The group are residing and also volunteering at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Golden Meadow Plant Materials Center in Galliano, Louisiana, a leader in coastal wetland ecosystem restoration.
"Though our group is only in Louisiana for a relatively short time, the goal is to learn as much as we can about the various problems affecting the Gulf," says Graham. "This way, when our educators arrive back home, they can better inform others as to how they can help."
And there is plenty of information to return home with, especially when it comes to wetland loss. According to data from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP), coastal Louisiana has lost an average of 34 square miles of land, primarily marsh, per year for the last 50 years. From 1932 to 2000, 1,900 square miles have disappeared, roughly an area the size of the state of Delaware.
Similar concerns over wetland loss are mirrored in New York wetlands such as Jamaica Bay [pictured below, (2)], a 39-square-mile estuary within a 142-square-mile watershed that includes portions of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island's Nassau County.
During the October 2011 "State of the Bay: Past, Present and Future—Revisited" symposium, a NYSG co-sponsored event held at Brooklyn College, there was much discussion amongst scientists about what could be done to restore the bay's salt marshes, which are being lost at a rate of 44 acres per year.
The health of Jamaica Bay is subject to the effects of being surrounded by millions of people. Stakeholders continue to look for ways to improve the conditions in the bay through research and transformation efforts. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
Why all the concern over wetlands in New York, southern Louisiana and elsewhere? These ecosystems represent a diverse ecological resource that supports multiple habitats, including open water, salt marshes, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrublands and brackish and freshwater wetlands. These habitats also are home to many species of fish, birds and other animals, some of which are known to only inhabit these environments.
Following the trip to southern Louisiana, the group of educators will share what they have learned with other NYSMEA members, students and the general public through both this Web blog and a Web casts at the Association's annual conference this summer.
"NYSMEA members are eager to assist in restoration efforts, and to raise awareness back in New York that there is plenty of work to be done in the Gulf and here at home," says NYSMEA President Meghan Marrero."Several attendees are classroom teachers, and will be bringing what they learned back to their students in the classroom right away."
Graham, who says she is looking forward to getting her hands dirty working alongside the educators during the various habitat restoration projects planned in the area, also intends to use the trip as a way of strengthening partnerships with the Louisiana Sea Grant program and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. "After arriving home, I plan to talk to New York Sea Grant staff about ways we can support these programs. And, as part of NYSMEA, I am also hoping to educate fellow NYSMEA members through various presentations at meetings and postings in our newsletter and through social networking."
NYSG's Focazio will again be reporting on the week's activities via the blog, filling it with stories and pictures documenting the educators' experiences through the end of this month.
“Between Sea Grant and NYSMEA, we deal with such a wide range of audiences that the blog needs to be user-friendly, interesting and informative,” says Focazio. Target audiences include everyday people, the media, legislators and partners, such as Sea Grant's parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Perhaps the most important use of the blog, though, is for it to serve as a resource for teachers and students. "The ultimate goal here is to have the blog be viewed as an educational tool with a high multiplier effect for learning about coastal restoration and wetland loss."
Later this week, BTNEP Plant Materials Coordinator Matt Benoit will lead educators in a native tree planting on the Port Fourchon Maritime Forest Ridge.
Blog posts this year will feature a partnership planting with BTNEP of native trees on a newly-restored natural ridge north of Port Fourchon, LA. "When complete, the ridge will act as critical habitat for neotropical migratory birds traveling to and from South American across the Gulf of Mexico," says BTNEP Plant Materials Coordinator Matt Benoit.
Also planned is a wetland presentation and tour of Louisiana State Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), whose staff will be teaching the NYSMEA educators about Louisiana's tidal wetland loss, leading a canoe trip around the wetland and touring LUMCON for discussions with the facility's researchers.
Plant propagation are on the schedule, too, both at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Golden Meadow Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Galliano, Louisiana, where the group is staying for the duration of the trip, and at the Wetland Plant Center (WPC) in City Park with Louisiana Sea Grant's Louisiana State University AgCenter Extension Associate Caitlin Reilly. The educators will be weeding, cutting, separating, and potting wetland plants at both nurseries, which provide plants used to restore their respective surrounding wetlands.
Louisiana Sea Grant's Caitlin Reilly, pictured here in February 2011 with New York Sea Grant’s Long Island Sound Educator Larissa Graham, has planned another a plant propagation at the Wetland Plant Center in City Park.
Sea Grant staff from the national network’s 32 programs have also volunteered at WPC. During their Fall 2010 planting, Sea Grant-ers contributed about 55 volunteer hours for a planting effort along 200 feet of shoreline in New Orleans’ City Park. “In the face of land loss, we see a lot of need for restoration in Louisiana, especially after Hurricane Katrina,” says Reilly.