Restoring faith in the plastic society

Russell McCulley 
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Energy companies and conservationists have joined forces in a novel effort to protect Louisiana’s coastal wetlands using recycled plastic bottles to create floating ‘islands’ offshore one of the state’s most threatened ecosystems.

The technology has been used successfully to trap sediments and encourage growth along levees and shorelines, but a demonstration project launched at Isle de Jean Charles in September was the first attempt to recreate that success in open water, said John Hill, a spokesman for the America’s Wetland Foundation.

The foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association were joined by Shell, Entergy and the Terrebonne Parish government to sponsor the $120,000 restoration project. Other companies sent volunteers to help prepare the islands for deployment offshore.

The islands measure about 5ft by 8ft and hold between 40 and 60 native marsh plants each. The structures, built with a material made from the recycled plastic containers, PVC pipe and marine foam for buoyancy, were anchored end-to-end in shallow water near the Isle de Jean Charles marshes to create a 1500ft barrier.

Several remaining islands were placed farther from shore to test their ability to build land in open water.

If successful, the plants will set roots that form traps for land-building sediments.

The marshes of Isle de Jean Charles, northwest of Port Fourchon, are traditional Native American fishing grounds. The area falls outside the levee under construction as part of the Morganza to the Gulf Hurricane Protection Project.

‘This is the first site where we will have islands off by themselves,’ said Nicole Martin Waguespack, spokesperson for Martin Ecosystems, the Baton Rouge-based company that is installing the islands.

‘In our previous installation, along the banks of Bayou Sauvage, we are already seeing plants jump off the island and set roots after three months. This is going to be a good test for the effectiveness of the floating islands to generate new vegetation and new land.’

The project appeared to be off to a good start: shortly after installation, Hill reported that he spotted a crab clambering aboard one of the islands. RM

Thomas Dardar Jr, principal chief of the United Houma Nation, leads a tour of the newly installed floating islands at Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, where local officials hope to use new technology to rebuild land lost to coastal erosion.

Students from Montegut Middle School in Terrebonne Parish and employees of Shell prep a floating island for planting. Floating islands planted with native grasses are cabled together and anchored near coastline to help rebuild marshland.

Categories: North America Gulf of Mexico Safety & Security

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