Balloon flight shows what land Parishes can make


Since the recent BP announcement, coastal parishes in Louisiana have begun to settle their claims and plan to restore their shorelines. Although the scale of restoration needed in Louisiana's wetlands is very large, Parishes can and do make all the difference, especially when it comes to providing access and education to some of the the newest land in North America.

But how can we know that Parish (or any, for that matter) restoration projects are working? Public Lab shows us one way. 

This past month, as part of EPA's urban waters program, Public Lab organized several events to train new balloon pilots in the art and science of DIY aerial mapping. One of the sites was local favorite Wetland Watchers Park in St Charles Parish, just north and lakeward of NORCO.

You can read all about the project by reviewing the permit documents here and the permit map here ( thanks to NOAA and LDNR OCM )

Rock breakwaters are used across the Louisiana coast to prevent horizontal erosion. There is a need to dredge access channels to place the heavy rocks (unless the rocks are light-loaded, which increases construction costs). Rocks also sink, which decreases the effectiveness of hte engineered breakwater over time, necessitating "lifts" (putting more rock on top of sinking rock).

However, the need to stop erosion is urgent, and agencies are used to this technique. The shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain is eroding at 5-10 ft a year in this location, and this breakwater and created wetland would slow that loss of land, while building new land.

Miriam demonstrates the principle that we know restoration is working if people are smiling. 

Grace, Miriam, Diana, Stevie, and Scott arrived on site for 0930, in wonderfully bright and calm weather. Thanks to Barry from Wetland Watchers, we were able to paddle canoes out to the restoration. 

Weather was near perfect for mapping. Low wind, low tide, low waves, bright light. There were so many people out, four groups of whom thanked us for our work. Nice.

This map can be used to evaluate the as-built project, but is also useful for educational purposes, to show the grade schoolers the success of the project.

The baseline data can also help evaluate the effectiveness of using heavy rocks as breakwaters, and whether access channels affect the erosion of built marshes.


Grace learns the ropes

Overall, we took over 1,400 pictures in 40 minutes.  The map, however, is only made of about 7 photographs from this used point and shoot (a Canon 1400is). 

a Mid elevation shot shows the canoes, as well as plants, indentifiable to species

Only about seven photos from 1,400 taken with the point and shoot are uploaded for the final map.  The photos are stitched using some simple graphical tools in Mapknitter, a cloud-based, open source software project engineered by the Public Lab community. 

Parishes and local governments have a significant role to play in restoration from the coastal crisis in the wake of BP's oil. Groups like Public Lab are leading the way with low-cost wetland monitoring tools.  Together, we get the job done and show everyone.

Scott Eustis is GRN's coastal wetland specialist and an organizer with Public Lab.

Zoom in using the embed function on Mapknitter. Higher resolution GeoTiffs and metadata available on


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