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NOLA 2023 Reflection

I have never been more tired and sweaty than I was on this trip. It was truly an exercize in patience and exercize in general. However, this was truly a special experience. I was right in going on this trip and I feel like it has given me great experience as an environmental scientist and as a person. I now know that I can do more than work in just Southern California and I’m capable of taking what I know across an entire continent.

This was my first time ever taking an airplane. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it but it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be. Turns out simulating high altitude air pressure puts me right to sleep. The worst part of all of it is really just the airport.

I also set out on this trip hunting for a hat since I left mine all the way in California. I managed to find the hat of my dreams at the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Lucky for me I found it on day one and it didn’t leave my head for the rest of the trip. Nearly every picture of me on this trip features this beautiful hat from a very cool organization. Once this hat and I were together I felt like I was prepared for most anything.

What I was not prepared for was the mass of blackberry covering most of the preserve. Good luck and godspeed to those who go next year, it may be worse. And bring some paperclips. That’ll help keep all your data organized.

IHNC Lake Borgne Surge Protection Barrier

March 22, we visited the North end of the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier. Stacy Gillmore who works for Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East gave us our tour. You can see the pre and post Hurricane Katrina Flood walls on either side of the entrance gate. The original walls were only 16 feet high and the newer walls are 30 feet high. Katrina flooded the upriver industrial area 20 to 21 feet of surge water from Lake Borgne. 

During recovery the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Agency was formed through several pre existing levee districts. The Flood Protection Authority worked closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers during planning and construction of the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. Construction on the Surge Protection Barrier began in late 2008 and was completed in 2011. 

The total length of the structure is 1.8 miles long and includes 3 different navigational structures. The structure we saw was the First Sector Gate. It takes approximately 20 minutes to open and 20 minutes to close. Regardless of opinion of flood management it is impossible to deny that this is a marvel of engineering. 

Day 1 – Woodlands Conservancy Preserve Overview

Welcome to Woodlands Preserve!

Some quick safety notes to start with:

  • It is okay to leave your non-valuables in the pavilion near the parking lot. Valuable items can be left in the Van. 
  • Machete training will take place on our first day in the field.
  • DO NOT mess with any reptiles. Act as if they are all dangerous and/or venomous.
  • Be aware of blackberry brambles and possibly poison ivy.
  • Both vehicles have first aid kits but make sure to inform Zach of any items you use. 

We are working on the Woodlands Preserve site with Woodlands Conservancy. The 649-acre parcel of land was initially owned by the Plaquemines Parish (functionally equivalent to a county). For 18 years Woodlands Conservancy managed this property and maintained trails under the parish. On January 18, 2022 the protection of the property, now known as Woodlands Preserve, became protected in perpetuity for future generations via acquisition of the property by Woodlands Conservancy and the donation of a conservation servitude to Land Trust for Louisiana. There is more information about it on their website here

This area is a swamp. Swamps are forested wetlands and marshes are herbaceous wetlands. Typically swamps transition into marshes as you approach the coast. Unfortunately there has been a lot of habitat fragmentation in the New Orleans area. The Mississippi River naturally saturates these wetlands with water and deposits large amounts of sediments along its banks. Levying the Mississippi has caused the ground to sink and water to stagnate. The soil has been compacting with little addition of new sediments. 

When Hurricane Katrina hit this specific swamp it clearcut the dense overstory canopy layer. This also occurred when many invasive species were seeding. This spread invasive seeds throughout the preserve that now had a lot of sunlight in its understory. 

Within the next week we will be monitoring the preserve using band transects and permanently installed plots. We also have a drone that will monitor the canopy from an aerial view. Hopefully later in the week we will get the opportunity to use camera traps and sticky traps to observe some of the fauna in the area.

Here’s us waiting to get our day started in the pavillion