CCA’s Lake Charles Chapter joins local students to create new marsh in Prien Lake
The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana’s Lake Charles Chapter, Phillips 66, Martin Ecosystems and local students from Pearl Watson Elementary, LaGrange High School, Westlake High School and Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School teamed up on Friday to help rebuild the coastline near Prien Lake with another Floating Islands installation.
Volunteers from Phillips 66, local CCA chapter volunteers and about 125 students enjoyed a beautiful morning at Prien Lake Park while building approximately 2,000 square feet of new wetland island habitat. Each 8 x 20 foot “island” was planted with 150 native plants, and were carried to the waters’ edge for transport to the marsh site. Once in the marsh, they were placed end-to-end and anchored to the water bottom. Roughly 1500 native plants, including mangrove, seashore paspalum and smooth cord grass, were installed. The “floating islands” technology allows these plants to take root in the water bottom while providing protection to the existing shoreline from the natural elements.
The large group of volunteers gathered for training and instruction at about 9:00am, and included the local students, Lake Charles CCA volunteers, members of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, dozens of volunteers from Phillips 66 and others.
“The community support for this project was amazing,” Said Jolie Rhinehart, Phillips 66 Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex Manager. “Planting this marsh grass will help restore some of that coastline that was damaged so badly in our 2020 hurricane season. Our employees were proud to be a part of coastal protection and preservation for future generations.”
This is the third large-scale habitat partnership between Phillips 66 and CCA in recent years. In 2018, the two groups worked together to expand the Brad Vincent Artificial Reef in Calcasieu Lake. In 2019, the groups worked together to complete the first phase of the Prien Lake Floating Islands Project.
Rusty Vincent, a member of CCA’s Lake Charles Chapter, expressed his appreciation to their project partners and to all of the volunteers who pitched in.
“I’ve been helping with CCA for a long time, and I’m really proud of the work our local chapter is doing to build new marsh in this area,” said Vincent. “After what we’ve been through in this area in recent years, it’s great to see so many people out here working to rebuild these shorelines.”
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter was one of many local officials on hand for the project. During the brief welcome ceremony, he spoke to the large crowd about the importance of projects like this one, especially as the area continues to recover from the impacts of Hurricane Laura.
“This community has shown its resilience over the years, and it will take efforts like this one, where leaders like Phillips 66, CCA and these students have come together to help our area rebuild,” said Hunter. “I’m inspired by this effort, and appreciate all the hard work that made it happen.”
Mayor Hunter continued by thanking Phillips 66 for their leadership in the Lake Charles community.
“Time and time again, when the Lake Charles community has needed help, Phillips 66 has been there,” said Hunter.
Numerous local civic leaders were on hand to help with the project and greet volunteers, including State Senator Jeremy Stine, State Representative Les Farnum, State Representative Phillip Tarver, Westlake Mayor Dan Racca, Stitch Guillory from the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office, Robert Barrentine of the Calcasieu Parish School Board, Dean Roberts from Stream Wetland Services, Ella Barbe from Louisiana DEQ, Al Williams from the City of Lake Charles and Jerry Milner and Becky Cryer from the City of Westlake. U.S. Senator John Kennedy and U.S. Representative Clay Higgins had representatives on hand as well.
The project proved to be an excellent learning experience for the students who were on hand.
“We can spend our time in the classroom teaching about coastal erosion, but when the students can see it first hand, and not just learn about the problem but actually be a part of the solution, I think that’s an amazing experience,” said Westlake High School Agro-Science instructor and FFA advisor Regina Smart.
Marco Perez, an exchange student studying at Westlake, agreed.
“You don’t really think it’s going to make you feel good, but when you are doing it, you feel really good,” he said. “Giving your time to do something really worthwhile like this feels great.”
Reverend Francis “Boo” Kay, Head of Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School, watched as the students from all four schools worked together to get the difficult, dirty work done.
“This is an incredible experience for these kids,” said Kay. “Being from different schools, most of them don’t know each other, but to see them dive right in and work together as a group to achieve a common goal is very special.”
CCA’s volunteer project director Ed Landgraf led the effort from the initial concept to completion. He said it was the generosity and leadership of the project partners and volunteers who made it all come together.
“All of us at CCA would like to thank our partners from Phillips 66, Martin Ecosystems, Mike Hooks Industrial, Stream Wetland Services, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office and others. This would not have happened without every one of them,” said Landgraf. “Add these amazing kids from Pearl Watson, LaGrange, Westlake and EDS, and you are able to make a real difference.”
Landgraf also spoke of the impact of a day like this in instilling a conservation ethic into young students.
“Coastal restoration projects happen across south Louisiana, but in very few of them can you actually see the project in progress, get your hands dirty and know that you contributed to the future of protecting your environment.”
This was the sixth floating islands project spearheaded by CCA Louisiana in recent years. The first was Phase I of the Isle de Jean Charles Project in Point Aux Chenes, completed in 2011. Phase II of the Isle de Jean Charles project followed in 2013. In 2015, CCA and partners joined forces to build more than 1000 linear feet of islands off Highway 1 near Grand Isle. In 2018, an initial installation was completed in Vermilion Bay close to Cypremort Point, and the second phase was installed in the spring of 2019. Also in 2019, the first phase of the Prien Lake Floating Islands was completed by CCA and Phillips 66.
In all, nearly 30,000 square feet of new marsh has been built by CCA to create habitat and fortify marshland that had been devastated by years of erosion and storms. These projects are the first to use this technology, developed by Martin Ecosystems, in an open-water marine environment application. In some cases, the “floating island marsh” has even outperformed the surrounding natural marsh.
Funding for the Lake Charles project was provided by Phillips 66, CCA’s Building Conservation Trust and Martin Ecosystems along with donations by individual CCA members. In-kind services for the project were by Mike Hooks Industrial, Stream Wetland Services, and Stine Home and Yard. Youth volunteers were coordinated by the CCA Louisiana Youth Outreach program in partnership with the Magistro Family Foundation.
This build marks the 36th unique habitat project completed in recent years by CCA Louisiana and their partners, including 29 artificial reef projects and 7 marsh planting projects, representing a total habitat investment of nearly $20 million.