Healing the marshes with floating pillows

Spring is the perfect time for flotant marsh restoration. As part of restoring former oil and gas canals, Barataria Preserve is helping pioneer a flotant marsh restoration technique. Flotant marsh plants like maidencane (Panicum hemitomon) are not directly planted, so a new project unveiled in Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte Park hopes to recreate mats of flotant marsh, by a similar, but simpler method as planting underwater vegetation in Bayou St John. Crab trap wire was folded into “pillows” with pool noodles, and filled with maidencane plants. The noodles give the plants a lift, and the wire protects them from voracious nutria. Linked together, the few plants in each pillow will grow and expand toward each other to knit a mat of flotant marsh in a couple of years. This once-abundant type of marsh was found all throughout Barataria and Terrebonne Basins. If this method works, the Bayou Bienvenue area near New Orleans can also be restored to fresh marsh this way. With the protection of the wire and the buoyancy of the swimming pool noodles, The young plants will thrive in the park, growing and mingling with each other to become a sustainable mat of marsh. With the help of 20 or so volunteers, 935 marsh pillows were assembled and taken out to Horseshoe canal, where they were tied together and anchored to PVC pipes. Faculty from LSU pioneered the idea, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana organized the event, and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve provided the boats and locations for this, first of its kind, marsh pillow deployment. The wires were prickly and the work was tiring, but if successful these colorful rectangles will look like a healthy mat of green maiden cane in a few years. With more marsh instead of open water canal, there’s more protection for the city of New Orleans and surrounding suburbs during hurricane season, as well as more natural habitat for freshwater marsh critters!!This is the first time these pillows have been deployed on such a scale. On the previous deployment, 60-80 pillows were floated in Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge. Like in Barataria, the flotant marshes of Mandalay National Refuge have been impacted by oil and gas canals.The current project was brought forth by LSU, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve. The chosen deployment site has significance, as it is a recently backfilled canal. The canal’s narrower channel between banks of existing marsh is an ideal location for such a marsh restoration project. As Dr. Sasser put it, “backfilled canals and marsh pillow marsh restoration should go hand in hand.” Lily Zhou is a Water Resources Intern for Gulf Restoration Network. Scott Eustis is the Coastal Wetland Specialist.

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