Talking Shop in the Big Easy

img_5381As Program Manager for the CIB, I was fortunate enough to attend the “Restore America’s Estuaries” conference this year, a trip that took my colleagues and I to the Big Easy – New Orleans!

This annual pow-wow provides a wonderful opportunity for coastal restoration scientists and practitioners to network, share techniques, and swap stories. Because one of the projects I manage is the CIB’s Don’t Chuck Your Shucks (DCYS) program, I participated in a field session sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) that focused on their Oyster Shell Recycling program.

Much like our Don’t Chuck Your Shucks, the CRCL collects its shell directly from local restaurants. This includes some of the largest and most famous restaurants in the New Orleans area! They also collect from large festivals (this is New Orleans after all!) and from shucking houses throughout the state.

As you may venture to guess, though, the output of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana is considerably larger than DCYS: an incredible 1000 tons of shell annually, versus our respectable 75 tons.

Yep – that’s a LOT of oysters!

But given the rate of loss of marsh and barrier coastline that Louisiana experiences, it is easy to see that a large supply of this important material would need to be on hand. In fact, from 1932 to 2010, Coastal Louisiana lost 1900 square miles of land. Yes, that’s roughly an area the size of Delaware!

A mantra to live by…

As part of the trip, our group traveled from New Orleans to Buras, LA (a solid ninety minute ride) to see the shell processing area and talk shop. There, we reviewed their process of shell bagging (which is done by hand) and then traveled by boat to an area near Biloxi Marsh to view a reef in which these oyster bags had been used.

Unfortunately, as tends to happen along the coast, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. So sorry, there are no pictures. But I can tell you that the project consisted of an incredible 2000ft reef which was constructed with the bagged reclaimed oyster shell. This reef will keep erosion form affecting that area of marsh, stabilizing it against waves and flooding.

Sound familiar? It should!

We use similar techniques here in at the CIB (but we do have our handy Oyster Master to help with the shell bagging). Although the problems that we have here along the Inland Bays are considerably smaller that than of our friends down in Louisiana, we can learn from their techniques and from sharing stories of success, and even those of failure.

The valuable time spent at the Restore America’s Estuaries conference certainly afforded us that opportunity. Can’t wait until next year!

Posted Under: Staff Blog