Delta Dispatches: Volunteering to Restore the Coast
On today’s show Dr. Theryn Henkel of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Dr. Deb Abibou of CRCL join the program to talk about how people can get involved restoring the coast. From tree plantings to oyster shell recycling programs, here’s how you can get get dirty and get to work restoring the coast.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello. You are listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. Hello, Simone. Well, this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: Hey, Jacques.
Jacques: How are you? I’m really excited to be in the studio today.
Simone: Clearly, and you don’t want me here. Just keep going. That’s fine.
Jacques: Well, happy National Estuaries Week.
Simone: Yes. Yes. Yes. Hey, we talked about, last time on the show, you were going to that freshwater dinner. I didn’t hear about it. Is the house haunted?
Jacques: Well, I didn’t have any experiences with phantoms.
Simone: Now even after a couple of Noirs?
Jacques: No. It was amazing. Cavan is a beautiful restaurant. Chef Nathan Richard did a fabulous menu. We tried all kinds of things, alligator, just beautiful turtle egg carbonara. I had to be rolled out, but it was a great experience. Thanks to, again, Chef Nathan Richard, and Cavan Restaurant, and also Mudbug Brewery, who did a wonderful pairing. That was a great event.
Simone: Cool. Cool. What else you been up to?
Jacques: Not much. I’ve been busy, but moving offices, doing all-day meetings, that sort of thing. I don’t know. We don’t want to talk about my boring week.
Simone: Well, while you were moving offices, I actually worked this week.
Jacques: Well, first of all, Happy National Estuaries Week.
Jacques: According to the Houma Courier, about 110 million people, roughly half of all Americans, live near an estuary.
Simone: That doesn’t surprise me. People like to live by the water.
Jacques: Yeah. We’re going to have some scientists on who will tell us precisely what an estuary is, but it’s essentially an area where salt water from the Gulf or other seas mix with fresh water.
Simone: Agree. Is this a test?
Jacques: I don’t know. It’s just information. In Louisiana, it creates the bounty of species, from fresh water to salt water, brackish, that we know and love.
Simone: Of course, I grew up in Houma. We talk about that all the time, right? That is in the Barataria and Terrebonne Estuary, and that’s actually part of the National Estuary Program. We have a really fantastic group called BTNEP that works in the estuary. They’re dialed into some of the other estuaries nationally. Yeah. Not only do we grow up with it, but there’s actually, like you said, a national week, a national recognition for that. Their program actually runs through EPA. Yeah. BTNEP actually made a presentation at the CPRA meeting this week.
Jacques: Right. Yeah. I was going to ask about that. You’ve been busy going to a few meetings. How was the CPRA board meeting?
Simone: It was good. It was good. They covered a couple of different topics. They talked about Lower Mississippi River. They talked about estuaries. They talked about the Center for River Studies, which is an amazing new building where they’re housing the physical model for the river. There was a great article in the Advocate about it. Then also, we talked about this before, but CPRA does a recap now, after their weekly board meetings. In case you couldn’t go, you can catch up with it there. Like I said, they send that out. Also, sometimes, they even Facebook Live their meetings. If you can’t make it to Baton Rouge, you can still participate in the meetings.
Jacques: Yeah. Those meetings are always really informative. As far as the River Studies Center, we’ll have to have Rudy Simoneaux back on to talk about it.
Jacques: I know he’s been busy working to get it ready.
Simone: Yeah. We do need to have those guys back for an update.
Jacques: Well, and I know you were at another meeting with Chairman Johnny Bradberry, and Mark Davis from Tulane, talking about coastal issues. It was hosted on the North Shore. BGR, right?
Simone: Yeah, BGR, Bureau Governmental Research, they hosted a meeting, and Johnny spoke about the Master Plan, and Mark Davis from Tulane, which our next guests have a connection to Tulane as well, he talked about what’s not in the plan, and what people need to still be thinking about here in coastal Louisiana. Want to start talking to our next guest?
Jacques: Yeah. Well, let’s bring on Dr. Theryn Henkel with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Temperatures are cooling slowly, but they’re getting there. Fall’s coming. I know. We had that nice cold snap, and now it’s gone. Anyway, that means it’s time to get out in the marsh, get dirty, and get to work restoring the coast. Our guest today will be telling us about all the volunteer opportunities that are coming up for you to get out, do tree plantings, oyster shell recycling, all kind of things like that, where you can not only get your hands dirty doing a lot of this work, but you get to learn a lot about the issues, and really experiencing it like nowhere else. Anyway, let’s get to our first guest, Dr. Theryn Henkel. Welcome to Delta Dispatches.
Theryn Henkel: Thank you for having me.
Jacques: Theryn, tell us a little bit about what you do over there at Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
Theryn Henkel: I work in the coastal sustainability department. Our main mission is to restore the coast in our basin. Our basin is the Pontchartrain Basin, so basically, everything east of the Mississippi River is under our purview. We do a lot of water quality initiatives and restoration initiatives in that basin. One of our major successes is getting Lake Pontchartrain itself removed from the Impaired Water Bodies List.
Jacques: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve had your colleague, Dr. John Lopez, on the show before. Of course, so many people in the area know Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation through the Save Our Lake branding, and now you’re helping to save our coast. We were talking about this earlier, but you have your 30th anniversary nearly approaching.
Theryn Henkel: That’s right, in 2019 will be our 30th anniversary.
Simone: Theryn, how long have you been there?
Theryn Henkel: I started at LPBF in 2009.
Simone: You’re a northwest girl.
Theryn Henkel: I am.
Simone: I was very careful to say which west. Northwest girl, but you made your way all around, getting an education, too, right?
Theryn Henkel: That’s right, yep. Yeah. This is my third city I’ve lived in. I moved down here to work on my PhD, because I really was interested in wetlands. If you want to study wetlands, this is the place to be.
Simone: Nice estuary.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah.
Jacques: Well, and you’re a Seahawks fan, but we’ll forgive you on that.
Jacques: Since it is National Estuaries Week, Theryn, I have to ask you this question, even though I asked it to you yesterday in our meeting, what is your favorite estuarine species?
Theryn Henkel: I like to highlight the flora. Most people think of the fauna, and I am going to highlight the red maple, the swamp red maple tree.
Simone: Ah, very cool.
Theryn Henkel: Because very early in the winter, it doesn’t have leaves, but its bright red seeds come out, and some of the first color you see in the swamp in the spring.
Jacques: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s as much of a foliage changing as we’re going to get in Louisiana.
Theryn Henkel: Probably.
Simone: All the bird people, you say, “Oh, what’s your favorite bird?” They’re like, “The last one I saw,” so thank you for that detailed answer.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. No problem.
Jacques: All right. You spend a lot of time out in the swamps and the marsh. You do a lot of monitoring, speaking about getting your hands dirty. What is, when you’re out of the office, out working on the coast, what does that typical day look like for you?
Theryn Henkel: It’s an early day. You start very early in the day. You usually leave at 6:00 AM.
Simone: Because it’s hot?
Theryn Henkel: It’s hot, and you’d rather do a few long days instead of more short days.
Simone: Got you.
Theryn Henkel: Get it done, always. Time is money, as per usual. Yeah. We get out. We usually take a boat out to wherever we’re going, and get out in the marsh.
Simone: Can you drive a boat, Theryn?
Theryn Henkel: I cannot.
Theryn Henkel: But I can trailer a boat like nobody’s business.
Simone: Oh, okay. That’s more important, actually.
Theryn Henkel: I can back down the ramp in two seconds.
Jacques: That’s the hard part.
Simone: I agree. That is the hard part. Sorry. I had to ask.
Theryn Henkel: No. We get out there in the marsh, and there’s a variety of studies we do. We have a lot of different science initiatives, so it depends on what we’re doing that day as far as research. The beauty of my job and why I love it is there is no typical day.
Simone: You got your doctorate from Tulane. Do you work with other students a lot?
Theryn Henkel: Sometimes. Not as much anymore. In my personal life, I do. I like to go give talks, inspire people, and tell them how to make it through. Yeah.
Jacques: Well, speaking of inspiration, we were talking about all the volunteer opportunities that are coming up as the temperatures cool. What are those opportunities that LPBF is offering people to get out, and volunteer, and help restore the coast?
Theryn Henkel: Our major opportunity to get outside and get dirt is the tree plantings that we do. We do some of them ourselves, and some in partnership with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, which we’ll be talking about in later segments, with CRCL. That’s a swamp restoration initiative. Swamps are very important. They provide good storm surge protection, so restoring our swamps is very important. We like to get the volunteers out there and get them dirty. We have, between the two organizations, we have 8,000 trees to put in the ground this winter.
Simone: Where do you all get the trees? How does that even come about? You have to get the trees, then you got to plant the trees, and all of that takes a lot of coordination, effort, and even money.
Theryn Henkel: Right. Yeah. So far, we’ve been very lucky, in that we have a great partner. Restore the Earth Foundation has donated all the trees that we have planted so far. That’s a great cost savings, and we get those trees, and then we get them delivered, and get out in the marsh, and plant them in with the volunteers.
Jacques: Well, 8,000 trees, that’s a lot of work, and it’s going to have a huge impact. We’re going to talk, after the break, about what that entails and how you can get involved.
Simone: Yeah. I want to hear more.
Jacques: You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Jacques: I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and online through our podcast. We were talking to Dr. Theryn Henkel of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. What we were talking about during the break is that the volunteers opportunities that LPBF and CRCL offer to folks is something that we struggle with sometimes, of how to connect people to the coast. We had Erin on last week that was talking about a sportsman’s paradise. If you don’t fish, if you don’t hunt, how do you feel even more connected, and how can you, really, most importantly, feel like you’re doing something? I feel like the volunteer activities that you all do, it really is one of the very few ways that we can connect people to the coast. Theryn, yeah, you all offer beach sweeps, you offer lots of varieties of things.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. We have a lot of ways that you can get involved. Tree plantings is just one way, but if you don’t like to get muddy, or maybe are intimidated by bugs or something, I totally understand that, we have other ways you can get involved. Twice a year, we do huge basin cleanups, where you get big groups out, pick up garbage.
Simone: Even catch basins and stuff?
Theryn Henkel: Catch basins, yeah. We put those little stickers on the basins that say “Drains to lake,” because everything that gets to the storm drains ends up in the lake, so that’s a way to clean up your lake without getting on the water.
Theryn Henkel: You can also volunteer to be a docent, which means you can lead tours at our museum, at our lighthouse.
Jacques: The lighthouse.
Theryn Henkel: Yep, the lighthouse on the lakefront.
Simone: Iconic lighthouse.
Theryn Henkel: It’s right next to Landry’s.
Jacques: You can, not just volunteer, but you can visit and do a tour, correct?
Theryn Henkel: Right, yep. You can do a tour of the museum there, but you can volunteer to learn how to also give tours of that museum. That’s called a docent. You also could be part of our coastal crew, where you get trained, and you basically become an ambassador for LPBF and for the coast. We’ll send you out to tabling events and things like that, to help us get our message out there.
Simone: Yeah, because you all are out at different community activities as well, CRCL, too, right, different opportunities?
Theryn Henkel: Exactly, yeah. We’ll be at Boil for the Bayou this Saturday, so we’ll see.
Simone: Exactly. Oh, nice. Theryn, you should … Yeah.
Jacques: We’re going to plug that.
Simone: Yeah. Nice segue, Theryn. Nice segue.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah.
Jacques: Well, and I know you all have also done cleanups around Bayou St. John, so you’re really just ingrained in the community.
Theryn Henkel: That’s right. Yeah. There’s a lot of opportunities to help and cleanup. Then also, I always just like to plug our lighthouse as an amazing venue that can be rented for anything you want to do.
Simone: Oh, I actually didn’t know that. That’s good to know.
Theryn Henkel: Weddings, family reunions, corporate crayfish boils. We had one gentleman rent for an hour on the balcony to propose to his girlfriend, anything you want.
Simone: Oh, that’s so sweet.
Jacques: It really is a beautiful space.
Simone: It’s a beautiful spot.
Simone: It’s looking right out on the lake.
Jacques: Getting back to plantings a little bit, and we’re going to talk to Doug from CRCL about this, but what can someone expect on a typical day, when they’re out planting, doing a marsh planting?
Theryn Henkel: We like to be very realistic about what you’re going to expect. It is muddy work. The ground isn’t always solid. There are the holes that you’ll fall in, maybe even up to your waste.
Simone: Do you have age, like a certain preferred age maybe?
Theryn Henkel: Yeah, if it’s a partnership with CRCL, those ones are 16 and up, and if it’s one that only LPBF is running, it’s 12 and up. We love groups, so if you have a whole group of people that want to come out, I think Jacques is going to get us a group maybe.
Jacques: My rugby team, we’re going to get out. The Crescent City Rougaroux.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah, good. Yeah. Anytime you want to get a group out, we love groups. It’s just a great way to get involved, and get dirty, and feel like you’re actually doing something. My dream someday is that we’ll be able to see all these trees from Google Earth.
Jacques: Ah, awesome.
Simone: Ah, very cool.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah.
Jacques: I love that image. You said 8,000, but how many do you … You guys had a report recently, right, about the number of trees that you’ve planted over time? What’s the cumulative total?
Theryn Henkel: I think we’re a little over 56,000 total in the Pontchartrain Basin.
Simone: Wow. You had 56,000 tree babies.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah, with CRCL, Restore the Foundation, and LPBF together, 56,0000.
Simone: That’s awesome.
Jacques: We want to bring Deb Abibou from CRCL on, but real quick, Theryn, where can people go to learn more and sign up to volunteer?
Theryn Henkel: Definitely our website, SaveOurLake.org, our Facebook page, our Twitter is @OurBasin, our Instagram is l.p.b.f. Yeah. I also just really quickly want to highlight Wednesday, we have a lecture at the lighthouse. That’s going to be Nola Trash Mob, talking about all the stuff we just talked about, how you can help clean up your neighborhood, organize your neighborhood to help do trash pickups. We also have a haunted lighthouse coming up on October 29th.
Simone: That’s like our theme.
Jacques: I want to go out there.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. It’s especially good for 12 and under, $5 a person, candies, face painting.
Simone: Very cool. Wait, when is the haunted …
Theryn Henkel: October 29th, yep.
Simone: Very cool. Very cool, right before Halloween.
Theryn Henkel: That’s right.
Simone: New Orleans is such a fun Halloween city, but sometimes, it’s not kiddie, adult Halloween.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. This is kid. This is kid. No doing your sexy costumes.
Simone: Deb, what are you dressing up for Halloween, for the lighthouse?
Deb: You know, I don’t know if we can top last year, was a Pepé Le Pew, and I was the reluctant cat.
Simone: Pepé Le Pew …
Jacques: Well, officially, welcome to Delta Dispatches, Dr. Deb Visco Abibou. You’re a restoration programs director with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, which is also nearing its 30th year anniversary. These are two organizations that have had a huge impact on the coast in the last 30 years, and still to this day.
Deb: Right. CRCL is the oldest and largest organization that is working on coastal issues in Louisiana. We have some board members have been with us for a very long time, and a really great, dedicated group supporting this work.
Jacques: That’s awesome. Hats off to both of you, and all your staff and supporters. I want to ask, because we love partnerships, and we see how effective partnerships are in addressing this issue, so Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana actually partner on these tree plantings. How does that work, and how do you partner together on that?
Deb: Yeah. You couldn’t design something that fits together so well. CRCL was able to get the funding from CPRA, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and LPBF has been partnering by selecting sites, and doing monitoring work, and helping with other aspects, like boats and logistics. Then we brought in the Restore the Earth partnership that Theryn mentioned to provide the trees. These four organizations have fit together nicely. The fifth part, essential part, would be you. The volunteers are really the engine of the whole operation.
Jacques: I’m so curious. I’m excited to get out there and do it myself, but for someone that maybe it’s their first time doing a tree planting, do you see that excitement, that enthusiasm? Has it been rewarding for you to see people get out and actually do this work?
Deb: Absolutely. Sometimes, it’s endearing. The first half hour of hesitation, when people realize and have to come to terms with everything.
Theryn Henkel: “What did I get myself into today?”
Deb: Yeah. That they’re going to sink in the mud, and that they’re going to get dirty. Once people accept that, they let themselves have fun. Like you were talking about, Simone, some of the problems that we’re facing as a coast, and some of the solutions, are just very large-scale, and daunting, and intimidating, but this is something where everybody can participate and make a contribution, and know that it’s a significant contribution, because of how long this program been going on, and how many total trees Theryn was mentioning, that your drop in the bucket really does add up.
Simone: Yeah. I love that.
Theryn Henkel: I’d like to emphasize that we have had many return volunteers.
Simone: Well, there’s your real endorsement, right?
Theryn Henkel: That’s right.
Simone: You all didn’t scare them away.
Theryn Henkel: People come back, yeah.
Deb: We’ve only lost a couple to gators.
Jacques: Or to the mud. Well, I have to ask, Deb, what is your favorite estuarine species? Are you going to go with the flora or the fauna?
Simone: Please note that Jacques didn’t ask me. Ask the science ladies.
Deb: I come from an ornithology background.
Simone: God, this show.
Deb: AKA, bird nerd.
Theryn Henkel: Bird nerd.
Simone: I’m beginning to think this is like …
Theryn Henkel: This is a bird makeover over here.
Jacques: We’ve hijacked the show, Simone.
Deb: Recently, I saw a tricolored heron out in the marsh, and it’s always one of my favorites, because I feel like they are the flamboyant Louisiana lady, sitting out there …
Simone: I want the Roseate spoonbill. That’s what I like. Thanks for asking, Jacques.
Jacques: Yeah. Okay, Simone. What is your favorite estuarine species?
Simone: It’s too late. It’s too late. We’re going to go to commercial. Maybe one of us will be back.
Jacques: Okay. We’ll see, if we don’t sink into the mud. All right. Well, you are listening to Delta Dispatches. We are discussing all the opportunities that are coming up to get your hands dirty and have a direct impact on restoring our coast.
Jacques: You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Simone: Are we talking about flora and fauna during the break?
Jacques: We were talking about I think more of the flora than the fauna.
Simone: We were, I’m using smart people to identify weird things in my yard.
Jacques: Oh, I guess that was fauna.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah.
Simone: That is not. Whatever that is on my door, it is not my favorite estuarine flora. All right. Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz.
Jacques: I’m Jacques Hebert.
Simone: We’re back. You’re listening to us on 990 WGSO. You can also find our podcast, not just this one, will be available maybe tomorrow, but previous episodes.
Jacques: Yep. DeltaDispatches.org, go there, subscribe. This is our 26th episode. Catch up on old episodes. We’ve got a lot of great interviews with very interesting people that we’ve been talking to.
Simone: You can hear how bad we were in the beginning.
Jacques: Yeah, I know.
Simone: How little improvement we’ve made.
Jacques: Apparently, we have a fan.
Simone: I heard.
Jacques: We got a fan. We got fan mail. This is our first piece of fan mail.
Simone: I don’t want to jinx it.
Jacques: I know.
Jacques: We’re not related to him, either.
Simone: Yes. That was an important point to make. Okay, so we have Dr. Theryn Henkel and Dr. Deb Abibou. Jacques told me …
Deb: You put the emphasis on the wrong syllable.
Simone: We’re talking about their respective partner organizations to ours, as well as their actual work. We wanted to talk a little bit more about … Theryn, during the break, we were talking about you’re not just planting trees to plant trees, right? They play an important role.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. We’re doing swamp restoration, and planting trees is great, but another reason why we wanted to do this, I think I mentioned earlier, they offer a great storm surge protection, but the two main locations we’re doing it, one is near the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion in Braithwaite.
Jacques: Shout out.
Simone: I can’t believe this. Shout out.
Theryn Henkel: Right there, there’s a brand new levee that they just built, a brand new, federal levee. We’re trying to get the swamp forest established in front of that federal levee, so that it can help with the storm surge, protect the levees that project your people. It’s part of that multiple line of defense, where you get as many bumps in the road as you can. Then another main location we’re doing it is on the Maurepas land bridge. The Maurepas land bridge is in … It’s the land bridge in between Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain. It’s incredibly important for Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge, you’re becoming more and more coastal.
Simone: It’s so beautiful out there, too. I’ve been out there with you before. It’s so different and beautiful.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. It’s a beautiful swamp there, but with that land bridge, if that goes away, storm surge is coming right in Baton Rouge’s back yard. That’s a very important, another important multiple lines of defense feature. Let’s get some forests on that and keep it stable.
Simone: Someone, you all get the trees grown, a little grown, and there’s probably a better way to say this …
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. They’re about nine months to a year old. They’re about three to four feet tall, just a little twig in a gallon pot.
Jacques: We never said. They’re cypress trees, correct?
Theryn Henkel: No. We do multiple species. Cypress we do the most of, because that’s the most salt-tolerant of the swamp species, so just in case. We also plant water tupelo, black gum tupelo, swamp maple, and we’ve done a few green ash.
Simone: You get them at that age, and then you all don’t just plant and leave, right? This is Louisiana. Things happen to them, so you do things to protect them almost?
Deb: Right. One way that we protect the trees is with these nutria-excluder devices.
Simone: Oh, I like it.
Deb: Which is essentially a sheet of plastic, but if you imagine that curling around the base of the tree.
Simone: We’ve talked about nutria on this show before, and the problems that they can cause, too, right?
Deb: Yeah. They’re an invasive rodent.
Simone: Rodent, I like that. She went aggressive on that, too. She’s not sugarcoating that.
Deb: No. Without these protectors, most of our trees wouldn’t make it.
Theryn Henkel: I would like to say that we learned that the hard way. One of our first plantings, we put 200 in the ground without nutria protectors on them. We came back a week-and-a-half later, 99% of them were chewed off.
Jacques: You were just planting a bunch of nutria food.
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. They didn’t really eat them. They just chewed them off and left them there for us to find. It was pretty rude.
Simone: What a bunch of rats?
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. They’re spiteful.
Simone: You know that because you go back and you check on them.
Theryn Henkel: Right. LPBF’s main part of this partnership is the monitoring program. We do the science. We tag a bunch of trees each year. We come back and measure them every year. That’s how we have a good idea of survival, our success. We also keep track of lessons learned, so that each year, we become more and more successful. Those reports are available online, SaveOurLake.org. Anyways, yeah. So far, average, 80% across the board.
Jacques: Well, since it is National Estuaries Week, I keep hitting on it, but part of this is swamp restoration, right? We’re talking about the freshwater habitat and freshwater land that goes out to the brackish and saltwater. Can you tell us a little bit, Deb, about that gradient, and why it’s important to maintain freshwater habitat?
Deb: Yeah. Estuaries are special, because that gradient means you have a variety of species. They serve as nurseries a lot times for different parts of the lifecycle, species that their adult form may end up further out in the saltier water, but the young juveniles will shelter in the estuaries. CRCL has produces a really nifty estuaries graphic that you can find at CRCL.org that just helps one picture where different species are along the gradient, and to help the lay person see it all in one place, and visualize where you might find certain species from the gradient and from fresh to salty water.
Simone: Yeah. You all have that. Don’t you also have multiple lines of defense, right, going back to Theryn and them?
Deb: That’s right, developed in collaboration.
Simone: All of that helps visualize, I think that’s the way you said it, too, is really important for people. They maybe know it, but they don’t know how maybe it all interacts, or they can see it in that way, and the visuals, they’re beautiful. They really are.
Theryn Henkel: I think Jacques mentioned in a break maybe that huge portions of the water population live in estuaries, and the reason for that is because estuaries are so productive. The reason why estuaries are so productive is because you have fresh all the way to salt.
Jacques: Yeah. When we were talking about that, what we’re facing really is a problem of saltwater intrusion, and we have no shortage of saltwater habitat, right, so we really need to try to make sure that we’re maintaining the freshwater habitat and the full gradient, or we risk losing some of the iconic species that we know and love, like the American alligator.
Simone: Also, once it goes salt, that’s a hard corner to turn back around, right? Is that fair?
Theryn Henkel: Well, it is hard, but I think, with some of our techniques, I’m sure you’ve talked about on the show, like sediment and fresh water diversions, that’s a way to get the fresh end back on an estuary.
Simone: Back to natural.
Theryn Henkel: Back to … Yeah. In the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion, that’s the only reason we can plant trees there, is because that diversion is there and it created that fresh habitat.
Simone: Very good.
Jacques: Deb, we were talking, getting back to the plantings a little bit, what types of people are you getting out for these plantings? Is it a mixed bag? Are they mostly local? Are you getting people from out of state? Give us a breakdown of some of your volunteers.
Deb: Sure. We get the best types. We have the best volunteers, and it really does vary. We’ve had groups come in from Maine before to volunteer with us. Sometimes, college groups come down to visit, but our most dedicated volunteers are the locals, who are working to help what they see as … Contributing what they can in their own backyards. It really varies, everything from groups to individuals. We have events at a frequency that’s becoming a community of volunteers.
Simone: You probably have repeat offenders, like Theryn does?
Deb: Yeah. Uh-huh.
Simone: Also, they’re probably your best recruiters, to get more people out there. If they’ve done it once, they can bring more people out there. That’s a great network that you all are building there, too.
Deb: Right. We try to make it a good experience. It’s always a full day.
Simone: I think you all are honest about it, too, in your descriptions, right?
Theryn Henkel: Yeah. We try to …
Simone: It’s a lot of work. Don’t bring shoes you love, right?
Deb: Our events our more geared towards adults, usually because we’re using boats or other dangerous equipment, so do check the age limitations.
Jacques: To be fair, you’re not just going to throw people out in the marsh. You give them some preparation, and overview, and safety tips. Is that correct?
Theryn Henkel: And snacks.
Deb: Of course.
Theryn Henkel: We have good snacks, also, I’ll just mention.
Deb: We are good to our volunteers, because you are good to us.
Theryn Henkel: I’ll also mention that we’ve also had some of our funders out. For example, Valero has given us money to help with the tree-planting program. Then they send a big group out every year to plant with us. They are some of the most amazing planters we’re ever actually had. We get our funders out there as well, so they can see the product of their money.
Simone: Yeah, see their investments, right?
Deb: Yeah. These events make great team-building opportunities also. Think about bringing out your sports team, your Mardi Gras crew.
Deb: Whatever your local social group is.
Jacques: Your dance crew, right?
Deb: Yeah. My.
Jacques: Deb, tell us about your extracurricular activity.
Simone: Oh, we talk about Jacques’ sometimes, too, so let’s hear it.
Deb: Well, I’m on my way after this to practice with the Sirens of New Orleans.
Simone: Love it.
Deb: The Sirens are a dancing crew, and they do a lot of philanthropy. I will just note that they smashed the record for oyster shell bagging.
Simone: Jacques was talking about how hard that was.
Deb: Yeah, a week-and-a-half ago.
Jacques: Yeah. We’re going to talk about that in the next segment. It is not … It’s fun. It’s rewarding, but it is a competition. It’s hard work. Catch Deb at the next Mardi Gras parade.
Simone: Love it. If you’re into it. Theryn plays volleyball?
Theryn Henkel: I play a little beach volleyball and a little soccer.
Simone: Beach volleyball.
Theryn Henkel: I’m president of the Woman’s Soccer League in New Orleans. Come join us.
Simone: I think I knew that. You played in high school, and when you were growing up.
Theryn Henkel: I played in college, yeah.
Simone: College? Very cool. Very cool.
Jacques: Theryn, we are going to excuse you, but we are so grateful that you were on Delta Dispatches, and you talked all about the amazing work that Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is doing. We’re going to have Deb on for one more segment. Theryn, tell us one more time where people can go to learn about Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and volunteer?
Theryn Henkel: SaveOurLake.org, and our Facebook page is the most up-to-date for upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Simone: Cool. We are so glad that you came on with us, Theryn.
Theryn Henkel: Thanks for having me.
Jacques: Who that? All right. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’ll be right back after the break.
Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Hebert.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz.
Jacques: We are here with Dr. Deb Abibou of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. We were talking about volunteer opportunities, right, and tree plantings, and all the opportunities to get out on the marsh, but there are other volunteer opportunities. One really unique and cool volunteer opportunity is oyster shell recycling.
Simone: East oysters, save the coast.
Jacques: Yeah. Once you shuck them, don’t just chuck them. Awesome.
Simone: Don’t just chuck them. Don’t say that too quickly.
Jacques: Deb, we had a whole episode on your oyster shell recycling program, but for those who may not be familiar, can you give us a quick overview of the program and what it does?
Deb: Absolutely. The oyster shell recycling program, we like to say, is a simple and delicious way to restore the coast, along the lines of actions that every person can take. We collect shell from New Orleans’ area restaurants and recycle it back into our coastal waters to create oyster reefs that protect shoreline. We are, for one, keeping this valuable resource out of the landfills, and two, we’re using it to protect habitat and to restore oyster reefs.
Jacques: That’s such a great idea. I know some of the best and most well-known restaurants in New Orleans are involved, right? Who are some of those restaurants? How many? What if you’re a restaurant that wants to get involved? Are you still looking for folks to do that?
Deb: Yeah, that’s right. We actually have recently reduced our prices, so I really encourage any restaurants that serve a large amount of oysters to get involved. We have 13 partner restaurant, and we’ve just added three more in the last couple of weeks. Some of our strongest supporters include Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House, and Borgne, Peche, the Royal Sonesta Hotel’s Desire Oyster Bar, Red Fish Grill, just to name a few.
Jacques: That’s awesome. By eating oysters, you’re really helping in some ways to restore the coast. Tell us a little bit about how you involve people, other than having them just eat the oysters. You actually have them go out and help build one of these oyster reefs, right?
Deb: Right. As always, CRCL is looking to connect the community to coastal restoration. The oyster shell recycling program is another way that we can do that. At these events, volunteers travel down to Plaquemines Parish, to our marina, where we store the shell, in Buras. They play a role in helping prepare the shell for use in the reef. The shell is collected at these restaurants by Phoenix Recycling. They bring it down to this site so that the shell can cure in the sun. It has to have all of that food and bacteria broken down so that the surface is clean for new oysters to attach. The idea is that once these shells are in the water, they’re going to be a cultch or a substrate for young oysters to attach to.
Now, once we have that pile of shells, that’s where the volunteers can get involved. We’ve had over 400 volunteers participate already in this program. They come down and do about a half day of work.
Simone: Like Jacques.
Deb: Exactly. They shovel the shell into bags, which are the units of the reef. Then those bags will be later deployed by contractors into our waters. Our first reef was completed last year in Biloxi Marsh, and we’ve just secured funding to do our second reef. That’s going to be in Barataria Bay.
Simone: Cool. Very cool.
Jacques: That’s awesome. Did I hear that will be developing off the first reef?
Deb: That’s right. Although, we don’t have our official monitoring data in yet, we go and visit the reef periodically to do monitoring work, and to check up on it. We have seen evidence of growth of our young oysters onto the structure.
Jacques: That’s awesome. It just shows, of course, there’s benefits in terms of water quality and storm surge protection, but also, you’re potentially growing oysters on the reef.
Deb: Yeah. The idea is that it will become a living shoreline as those new oysters grow, and they’re creating structure, which equals habitat. Again, they’re helping attenuate the waves and protect the shoreline from eroding behind it.
Jacques: Yeah. I did have an opportunity to go down and volunteer. You get to the site, and you just see this mountain of oyster shells. You all make it as easy as you can and fun as you can to really just shovel oysters into these containers that will be used to create the reef. It almost becomes a competition.
Deb: Uh-huh, and there are incentives. If you bag a ton on your own, you can get your name up on the wall of fame.
Jacques: Oh, wow.
Deb: The Ton of Fun Wall.
Simone: That’s funny.
Jacques: I don’t think my name is up there.
Deb: I’ll check. I’ll check.
Simone: Probably never going to see Simone Maloz’s name up there.
Jacques: Well, I’ll have to get back up there though, maybe try again.
Simone: Can we collectively maybe have a Delta Dispatches place on the wall?
Deb: Yeah. You can always go in on a shell.
Simone: Let’s do it together maybe.
Jacques: You’re going to tell us, “Okay. It’s done.” We’re like, “No. We’re going to keep going until we get on that wall.”
Deb: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There’s activities for everyone though, so if you’re not physically able to shovel the shell, we need people to prep bags, for example. Don’t cross it off just if you have a back issue or something like that. We still welcome you.
Jacques: It’s another great team company opportunity, to get out there, and have team bonding, and have fun, and make a difference.
Deb: Right. We have public events that are now the third Saturday of every month, except November, because of Thanksgiving. We cater a lot to private businesses and groups, like you mentioned, because we can have a lot of flexibility in scheduling those. Anybody who wants to arrange a group, they can find … They can contact me by email. My contact information is at CRCL.org. You can see all of these upcoming events on our calendar of events. When you go to CRCL.org, click on the calendar.
Simone: Very cool. Are you all going to be at Boil for the Bayou?
Deb: I think so. Yes. Yes. Looking forward to it.
Jacques: What is Boil for the Bayou, and how can people attend?
Simone: It’s actually the third annual Boil for the Bayou. It is in Belle Chasse this year. It’s September 23rd from 12:00 to 4:00 PM. They have all kind of boiled seafood. I’ve been out there before.
Jacques: Yeah. It’s going to be great. It’s at 333 F. Edward Hebert Boulevard in Belle Chasse. Apparently, there’s going to be a shrimp cook-off.
Simone: Oh, fun.
Jacques: They’re going to have teams that are competing to see what …
Simone: This is I think their first time at the new location.
Jacques: Yeah. It’s a great day. It’s a good opportunity to learn about what’s the latest and greatest in terms of coastal restoration, and of course, eat some good food.
Simone: Yeah. I think the state is going to be out there, and a lot of our partner organizations. That’s one of the things coming up. Say it again, Deb. Where can they find more information about some of your activities coming up?
Deb: They can find them at CRCL.org. Click on the calendar of events, and then you can register right from there.
Jacques: There’s one coming up on the 30th, right, in Buras, an oyster shell bagging activity?
Deb: That’s right. This one will be joined by Two Girls, One Shuck out there, and there are still slots available for the public to join.
Simone: Love it.
Jacques: That’s awesome. The whole program is supported by Shell and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Is that correct?
Deb: That’s right. Our sponsors include Shell, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and also the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Simone: Very cool.
Jacques: It’s such a cool program. Yeah.
Deb: This year, Phillips 66 also has become a community sponsor.
Jacques: That’s great.
Simone: Good. One of the great ways that you can get involved, like we said earlier, we talk about a lot of different issues on this show, and Deb, you said it, you framed it up exactly correct, some of it is so large and complex, and it is daunting, and so this is a really great way for people, all different ages, including some of Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s work, along with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, some of the ways that families and people can get out there and help, eat oysters, save the coast.
Deb: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacques: Once you chuck them …
Deb: Don’t just chuck them.
Jacques: It gets confusing. One more time, and you also offer just Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation planting, so if someone really is in the mind to plant …
Deb: Yeah. Our next planting is October 5th, 6th, and 7th. Oh, no. Wait. Is it … Sorry, 4th, 5th, and 6th.
Simone: Praying for cooler weather, for sure.
Simone: We’d love to have somebody from the Coalition on again, right before State of the Coast.
Deb: That’s right. Our biannual conference, the State of the Coast conference, is May 30th through June 1st.
Deb: Yeah. It’s a great gathering of minds to assess the status of coastal restoration.
Jacques: Awesome. We will update you on that. Thank you so much Deb for being on, and all of CRCL. Another great show, Delta Dispatches, WGSO, DeltaDispatches.org. See you later, Simone.
Simone: We’ll talk to you next week.