LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - We hear a lot about coastal erosion, but seeing is believing. In a recent flyover we got a birds-eye view of the problem and what is being done to repair it. The two-hour flight with took us all over Southwest Louisiana's Chenier Plain - it's the stretch of land that protects us from hurricanes and storm surge.
"The Chenier Plain is low lying marshes, punctuated by these ridges of oak trees that are like whiskers of a cat," explained Carolyn Woosley, with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
According to Woosley the Chenier Plane used to be 90% freshwater marsh, but since the 1930s man has reduced that to 40%.
"Now surrounding the Chenier Plain is salt water highways with shipping channels and the Intracoastal Waterway," said Woosley.
Saltwater intrusion and erosion have reduced the Chenier by a third. Mother nature is also to blame. Both Rita and Ike were dry hurricanes.
"A dry hurricane means that a drought follows a hurricane. A drought is almost worse than the hurricane for the Chenier Plain and we lost a great deal to open water, which is the final chapter of the regime of fresh to salt water counts," said Woosley.
As we fly over there are obvious signs of land lost. Where dead trees dot the coast there used to be shoreline. But there are also signs of work being done to repair the damage.
"They're piping sediment into that pipeline. You see the mud deposits being built up," explained Woosley.
From the jetties of the fragile Cameron coastline, the science to protect the coast is forever evolving. As we approach Holly Beach, Highway 82 is clearly at risk.
"You'll start to see how close it gets to the Gulf of Mexico and how much the integrity of that highway is threatened by the Cameron shoreline," said Natalie Snider, Science Director with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
As our journey takes us inland Snider explains the work recently completed at Black Lake.
"This is the Ducks Unlimited Terracing Project, where they built terraces to slow down that wave action and reduce the erosion rate and hoping to trap sediment as well," said Snider. "The Black Lake area has been a focus of coastal restoration because it too was once all marshland. Now open waters, they're trying to reduce that because if they don't it will continue to take over."
They're also creating land. Dredging the Calcasieu Ship Channel, the Corps of Engineers has created what is called a marsh platform similar to an island in the middle of a body of water.
"When you come back in a year to this area, it will be completely vegetated there will be marsh, it will have birds and fish and other animals and wildlife living here," said Snider.
While it's visible progress, it remains a race against time as Louisiana loses a football field of coastline every 45 minutes.
Meanwhile you have an opportunity to do your part. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and America's Wetland Foundation is looking for volunteers to help plant 5,000 plugs of marsh grass in hackberry. The event is scheduled for March 21st.
Where: Volunteers will meet at St. Peter Church located on the corner of Highway 27 and West Main Drive in Hackberry, Louisiana. From there we will caravan by car approximately 5 miles to the planting site.
When: Monday March 21, 2011 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Volunteers will be planting grasses along a newly constructed levee in Black Lake and have the option of being able to walk along the levee to plant or be transported down the levee by boat. All planting equipment (gloves, shovels, dibbles, etc.), sunscreen and bug spray will be provided. Drinks and lunch will be provided to all volunteers.
What to Bring:
Rubber boots or old tennis shoes are recommended. Volunteers will be planting along the levee and will likely not have to get in the water. (However, when working it a wetland, there is always a chance that volunteers will get wet or muddy). Comfortable clothes that can get dirty will be needed as well as a change of clothes and towel for the end of the day.
Please register to let us know if you plan to attend. You can complete an online registration form at the www.crcl.org (click on the "Calendar of Events" link) or call the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana at (888)-LACOAST for more information.