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NativeEnergy and In Good Company: Restoring coastal wetlands in Louisiana

Posted by Kirsten McKnight on Nov 30, 2012
Tags: business partners, events & sponsorships

During the first week of November, I traveled to the bayou and participated in helping to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands with In Good Company. The organization is a collaboration of like-minded businesses—such as Clif Bar & Company, Annie’s Homegrown, EILEEN FISHER, King Arthur Flour, and Seventh Generation—that make a commitment to community service. Every year, these values-driven companies join together to make a difference through hands-on action and volunteerism, bringing awareness to important issues and communities in need.

Before we could stroll down Bourbon Street, we spent the week planting grasses and mangrove trees on the barrier islands of the Mississippi Delta to help them literally hold their ground. As a one-time science teacher, I was fascinated by the ecology and geomorphology at play. The many communities in very southern Louisiana, hit hard by Katrina in 2005, continue to be at increasing risk to hurricanes forming in the Gulf of Mexico as the land under their feet settles and sinks below sea level. The Mississippi River—channeled by levies in the past century to ensure a consistent shipping channel for goods in and out of the port of New Orleans—is no longer able to spread the sediment washing down from the river’s sources. Without that sediment being continually replenished, the land sinks.

As the land sinks, the freshwater plants, which have been able to live in the farthest reaches of the delta on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, are not adapted to survive under water. Today they are dying. As the plants decompose and their roots lose hold in the wetland soil, that soil is washed into the Gulf of Mexico. The whole Louisiana bayou, that land that has historically slowed hurricanes coming from the Gulf and provided crucial habitat for Louisiana’s rich commercial fishing industry, is slowly washing away.

The In Good Company crew, in partnership with Restore the Earth Foundation and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, spent the week planting saltwater tolerant plants on a barrier island in the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

Two hours by boat after two hours by car from New Orleans, the crew from all over the country and 16 different companies placed 4,000 biodegradable “Gulf Saver Bags” filled with composted humus on the beach. Inside those bags, we planted 15,000 native intertidal plants including Smooth Cordgrass, Marshay Grass, and Black Mangrove on five acres.

Whether through sharing a cabin with Timberland, EILEEN FISHER, or Seventh Generation employees or sharing a spot on the stern of the boat taking us through the Bayou to the worksite with our friend Lucy from Effect Marketing or Dan from Annie’s Homegrown, it was a great experience to get to know  people from those like-minded businesses on a personal level. It was also a treat to get to know the staff from Restore the Earth Foundation, and our hosts from Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries (LWF). The opportunity was exemplified by our exchange of cultures with Shane, Trebor, Jared, and Nick of LWF. One evening they joined us for dinner and  their first curry dish, which they assured us, was delicious. The following day, however, I had to question their sincerity when they insisted we try the Vienna sausage, a close relative of Spam, that had been stashed in Shane’s tackle box.

Within our diverse crew, we had one shared motivation - to try and help. It didn’t take long for us to transform into an efficient super organism, whether on the beach chucking bags of dirt to each other or back at camp managing to feed and clean up after our group of 30. Work is made less by many hands and many hands make work fun. After work, we played Bayou Bingo, attended a Cajun dance, boiled shrimp, and ate local fried everything. When the week was over, I felt like I was leaving my friends at summer camp.

Now that we are all back to our regular jobs, there is no disagreement among us that the week in the Bayou is keeping a special hold on us. We are all missing our little piece of beach bordering the Gulf, our muck boots, our plant babies (will they survive?), and the fulfillment of a single shared purpose of the most natural of processes: to plant and grow, to restore.

For more information Southern Louisiana’s disappearing landmasses, see the article published in Conservation Magazine this year: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2012/06/making-land/.

 

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