by Alexis Casnave, staff writer
While many people enjoy Grand Isle’s natural beauty, it doesn’t exist without threats from factors such as storm damage. The community of Grand Isle works diligently year-round to ensure the island remains alive and well.
“The work being done on Grand Isle is through the efforts of the town, the Garden Club, and the Nature Conservancy doing their best to restore the natural side of the island as people are rebuilding their homes and their businesses,” says Jean Landry, Program Manager at the Nature Conservancy in Grand Isle
Landry and other Conservancy team members work together to maintain the island and preserve native plants such as the iris.
Louisiana Irises have become scarce due to road and building developments around the state. The flowers have been rescued from areas in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish and moved to Grand Isle, where they flourish due to the island’s climate.
Due to its water-and-wetland-cleaning properties and ability to absorb toxins, the iris is significant to the ecology of the island. Landry says there are around 2,000 irises planted throughout Grand Isle.
While irises play an important role in Grand Isle’s ecology, they do not act alone. The island’s oak trees are also integral facets of its ecosystem.
“When people go for the beach, they’re sometimes missing the real ecological gem of the island, which is the Cheniere Forest,” says Gary LaFleur, associate professor of biology and director of Nicholls State University’s Center for Bayou Studies.
— Gary LaFleur
The word “cheniere” derives from the French term meaning “full of oaks.” The Cheniere Forest is home to oak trees up to 200 years old. These trees are instrumental in the survival of Grand Isle and its wildlife.
Birds exhausted from migrating over the Gulf of Mexico use oak trees as temporary shelter. The oaks also provide shelter for other wildlife like bobcats, frogs, land crabs and box turtles.
The uprooting of over 20 oak trees since Hurricane Ida leaves room for potential invasive plants like Chinese tallow trees and air potatoes to grow in their places.
“These forests are adapted for a bad hurricane every ten years, but they are not adapted for a bad hurricane every year,” says Dr. Lafleur.
If the frequency of hurricanes continues to increase, it could hurt the chances of survival for the oaks and the ecology surrounding them. Marine debris also poses a threat to sea life as trash is mistaken for food, endangering animals like seabirds and turtles.
A more recent environmental issue due to Hurricane Ida is the clogging of sewage and drainage systems. Sand and debris filled and clogged drains, resulting in standing water on the roads. This has affected 97 streets throughout the island, and residents attempting to keep the sand that has blown onto their property prolongs the issue.
“Last week we dug out a drainage ditch and the owners had a lot of excess sand on their property, so when we had hard rainfall, all the sand we dug out washed back into the drainage ditch so we now have to dig out again,” says Christopher Hernandez, Grand Isle’s Town Supervisor of Highways.
Hernandez says he expects the process to take six months to a year to complete due to a shortage of employees and equipment.
“We ask everyone to please be patient, and we will get to it one way or the other,” says Hernandez. “We will soon have several other crews joining to help.”
While the environment in Grand Isle has taken a beating over the years, hundreds of people continue to contribute to the preservation of its natural beauty.
Landry says, “It’s the green space that we need so we can get away from daily pressures and just enjoy the beauty of nature.”