Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration

By Happy Johnson, National Wildlife Federation

Louisiana is facing a coastal crisis. We lose one football field of wetlands every hour. 1,900 square miles of land has been lost already since the 1930s, and another 1,800 square miles are expected to be lost within the next 50 years unless we implement significant coastal restoration projects. Coastal land loss has strong, direct impacts on all communities, especially Black and Vietnamese fishing populations in the Mississippi River Delta. Without urgent restoration of Louisiana’s dying wetlands, we stand to lose these vital groups, cultures and economies.

Local community members attend a Community Conversation on Coastal Restoration event at the New Orleans Healing Center in August.

Many fishermen who saw their families, homes and boats dismantled by Hurricane Katrina experienced compounded economic damage during the BP oil disaster.  As a result, communities of color making a living in the fishing industry are dramatically shrinking.

The before-mentioned disasters also present a remarkable opportunity to implement policy and project solutions that mitigate land loss, reduce carbon emissions and tackle relative sea level rise. Examples of those solutions include Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan and the RESTORE Act, both of which harness science and community capacity to engineer a more resilient Gulf Coast.

On the third Tuesdays of June, July and August, the New Orleans branch of the National Wildlife Federation hosted a three-part series of informal residential gatherings titled “Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration” at the New Orleans Healing Center.

Representatives from neighborhood associations, community development organizations, curious residents, students and vocal coastal leaders attended these events to discuss the BP oil spill impacts, the RESTORE Act, the Coastal Master Plan and the Louisiana First Hiring Act. The overarching mission of this series was to help enhance coastal competency in urban communities.

State and federal investments in southeast Louisiana provide opportunities to build community strength against future catastrophes. How do we diversity grassroots and local residential interest and then turn that interest into advocacy? I think it begins with building trust, expanding opportunities and having in-depth conversations.

The emerging coastal restoration economy provides significant avenues for job growth, educational training and workforce development. Now is the time for New Orleans as a whole to prepare for the future.