Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana
Point of Contact
Dr. Dawn Lavoie U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Dr. Asbury Sallenger, USGS, Dr. James Flocks, USGS, Dr. Michael Miner U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and James Harris Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service are nominated for the Department of Interior s (DOI) 2011 Green Dream Team Environmental Achievement Award. The partnership between Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge and these nominated individuals of different agencies with the Department of Interior began shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The coast of southeast Louisiana was devastated; wind and water from the storm surge removed 75% of land at Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The partnership undertook an intensive study and produced an exceptional, scientific study was a 180 page report. This study along with the partnerships it allowed to form was later invaluable during the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster of 2010 .
The partnership between Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge and these nominated individuals of different agencies with the Department of Interior began shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The coast of southeast Louisiana was devastated; wind and water from the storm surge removed 75% of land at Breton National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The refuge is a key string of barrier islands located off the coast of southeast Louisiana. These islands are extremely important for the protection of the Louisiana coast and support tens of thousands of shore and water birds including important nesting grounds for the brown pelican, a species just removed from the Endangered Species list, and as an important wintering ground for the piping plover, an Endangered Species. The loss of the barrier islands also means the loss of the submerged aquatic vegetation habitat that they protect and the fish and aquatic resources that depend on that habitat. Following the storm questions remained on:
- where did the sand from the islands go;
- how long the islands should be expected to remain without restoration action;
- would natural processes rebuild the islands;
- could the islands be rebuilt by man; and
- what would be the best method for rebuilding and what would be the sustainability of these islands if rebuilt.
The USGS in partnership with the University of New Orleans Ponchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences undertook an intensive study that included:
- an analysis of island change based on historical maps and remotely sensed shoreline and topographic data;
- a series of LIDAR surveys at 3- to 4-month intervals after Hurricane Katrina to determine barrier island recovery potential;
- a discussion of sea level rise and effects on the islands;
- an analysis of sea floor evolution and sediment dynamics in the refuge over the past 150 years;
- an assessment of the local sediment transport and sediment resource availability based on the bathymetric and subbottom data;
- a carefully selected core collection effort to ground-truth the geophysical data and more fully characterize the sediments composing the islands and surrounds;
- an additional survey of the St. Bernard Shoals to assess their potential as a sand resource; and
- a modeling study to numerically simulate the potential response of the island to the low-intensity, intermediate, and extreme events likely to affect the refuge over the next 50 years.
Results and Achievements
The result of this exceptional, scientific study was a 180-page report titled Sand Resources, Regional Geology, and Coastal Processes of the Chandeleur Islands Coastal System: an Evaluation of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. The report identified parameters on what can be done for the islands, where best to rebuild them along with where the sand resources are, the quality and quantity of this sand and what can be expected in the future. This study along with the partnerships it allowed to form was later invaluable during the response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster of 2010.
Shortly after the BP Deepwater disaster, local and state political leaders presented a proposal to the US Coast Guard and BP Oil to construct over 100 miles of sand berm in the Gulf of Mexico in front of Breton NWR for the sole purpose of stopping oil from reaching its coastline. The original plan for the berm was to extend it along the entire length of Breton NWR and extract material from immediately in front of and immediately behind the refuge to build a 6 feet high, 25 feet wide at the top dike to catch oil.
Over a five month period of the oil spill disaster, there were tremendous pressures put on management of Breton NWR to allow sand removal from immediately in front of the islands for berm construction. Pressure came for high ranking State and Parish officials and it became routine to receive Congressional inquiries. The manager quite often received late evening and weekend telephone calls from the Assistant Secretary of Interior s office, the FWS Director's office or the Regional Director's office to supply sound scientific reasons for our decisions and stance on the berm construction. When these requests would come in, the manager constantly reached out to these nominated individuals for assistance. On every occasion these scientists from three different DOI agencies dropped their agency work and responded immediately with defendable data, maps and rational for our decisions. Because of their commitment to good coastal science and the willingness to work on Departmental issues with sister DOI agencies Breton National Wildlife Refuge was protected from the oil and the berm provided some improvements rather than harm to the refuge.
The USGS scientific report was used over and over again as a basis to halt poor construction proposals that would lead to the greater loss of the Refuge's sand resources and the accelerated demise of the refuge. The report and continued input from the nominated individuals throughout the oil spill response upheld the DOI stance that the Department would not object to the berm construction as long as it did not negatively impact the refuge and its resources. Based on the recommendations within the report and input from the team's members, the final berm construction project that was approved by BP, USGS and Department allowing the Army Corp of Engineers to build a 40 miles long berm with openings. The sand source would be taken from Hewes point and St. Bernard Shoals. Both locations were identified in the USGS report as having large quantities of quality sand and removing it would not impact tidal erosion of the barrier islands.