Environmental Impacts

By Tyrese Lee, Podcast Editor

While the natural areas look like they recover quickly from hurricane damage, the effects of Ida to South Louisiana’s environment is still evident.

“They’re very resilient to things like this but if you look at it before and at the aftermath of how much marsh we have versus how much water, there is a lot more water than marsh now after the storm,” says Quenton Fontenot, head of biological sciences at Nicholls State University.

“…there is a lot more water than marsh now after the storm.”

— Quenton Fontenot, biologist

Fontenot says Hurricane Ida’s strong winds churned up the Barataria estuary taking large chunks of marsh and pushing them north.

“Imagine the waterway you normally drive the boat down is completely clogged up with marsh and mud and things like that,” says Fontenot. “It was a big change.”

Thankfully, the levees held so there was no flood, but the water came up near the top of the levees, he says.

The most significant impact seen in the area was the marsh’s redistribution. A lot of that marsh turned, rolled, and moved up north. Fontenot says that if you were to go out into the canal now, people wouldn’t be able to tell that any of the damage from Hurricane Ida happened.

One thing Fontenot and his team are doing to mitigate the damage is re-dredging out the canals so that they can start getting their boats back and forth.

“We still need to bring sediment to rebuild areas where the marshes were lost,” says Fontenot.

Terraces, which are like little levies in the middle of open water, are being built to reduce the wind action, so the waves will not get churned up as much, and reduce the harm to the marshes.

“By having those terraces, we get more vegetation in these habitats which is more beneficial to the organisms that live out there,” says Fontenot.

Others, like Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary (BTNEP), are also working to restore the marshes.

“All of these native plants are put out and grown in the estuary and planted in different areas where we’ve lost or tried to restore habitat,” says Ashleigh Lambiotte, the native plant nursery coordinator at BTNEP.

Saltwater intrusion is a massive issue, and planting native plants helps hold all the soil in place, so it doesn’t erode or wash away. These native plants also act as a permanent physical barrier so that saltwater can’t get back into the upper marsh areas.

“We really focus right now a lot on woody vegetation so some of the trees that we have are hackberry, the native red Mulberry, live oaks, French Mulberry, and yaupon holly,” says Lambiotte.

Lambiotte also does a lot of work with native birds, monitoring and making habitats, and putting out nesting for some of our native or migratory birds affected by hurricanes like Ida.
These native plants are all important to provide habitat, fruit, and sheltering places for local animals.

Lambiotte believes that we need to work more on restoring this habitat along the coast and inland to prevent saltwater intrusion and rising tides.

Some of BTNEP’s funding for these projects comes directly from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Shell, and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

While people who live on the lower side of these bayous around Chauvin, Montegut, and the eastern part of Lafourche are still struggling to get repairs done, nature is well on the way to recovery, says Gary Lafleur, professor of biological sciences at Nicholls State University.

“Things made by humans are much more susceptible to wind than a marsh. If something gets torn up in places like Montegut, Chauvin, and Isle de Jean Charles, it would take them longer to recover than the marshes would,” he says. “Some of my students and I are working in a marsh right here pretty close to Chauvin and we saw that the nutria, hogs, deer and the bobcats are all still there because natural systems often do OK in hurricanes.”

“Things made by humans are much more susceptible to wind than a marsh.”

— Gary Lafleur, biologist