“The future of this American treasure is threatened…”
The Atchafalaya Basin spans one million acres of wetlands. It holds the largest continuous block of coastal cypress and the largest block of unbroken forest in the lower Mississippi River Valley. It is the only actively building coastal delta in the entire Gulf of Mexico.
But this natural treasure is threatened, said scientist Brian Piazza, who works with The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana.
Piazza highlighted Louisiana’s rich natural diversity and the rich culture and lifestyles that it has inspired during a lecture at the West Baton Rouge Museum on Friday, Sept. 15, in conjunction with the museum’s ongoing exhibit “Water Trails of the Atchafalaya.”
The Basin serves as a teacher for scientists such as Piazza. It’s actively building coastal delta system teaches environmental scientists how to rebuild Louisiana’s coast, which is eroding at a rate of one football field every hour, Piazza said.
Additionally, the 200,000 acre block of cypress trees supports a diverse ecology, provides protection from hurricanes and bears significant cultural impact, Piazza said.
The Basin’s woods, marshes and waters provide essential habitat for more than 300 wildlife species and 100 different aquatic species.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ way of managing the Basin like a system of pipes has threatened this great American treasure, Piazza said.
The Basin is losing connectivity and many canals impede the natural drainage cycle, which creates dead zones and leads to low cypress regeneration, he said.
“The future of this American treasure is threatened,” Piazza said.
In response, the Louisiana Nature Conservancy launched the Atchafalaya River Basin Initiative in July of 2015 with the purchase of 5,359 acres of land that was once privately owned.
The goal of the initiative is to ensure that people can enjoy the Basin and all it has to offer for generations to come, Piazza said.
The initiative focuses on community based conservation and employs local knowledge, which is why the program has been successful, Piazza said.
The area of land is known as The Preserve and will be open to the public through managed visitation. It will become home to a preserve headquarters, a floating research center and learning center for high schools and college classes to visit, Piazza said.
“We’re developing a center for swamp excellence,” Piazza said.
Another part of the initiative is the Conservation Fellows Program. The program allows graduate students an opportunity to conduct projects that will assist with basin research while earning their graduate degree, Piazza said.
“The initiative is the first step in a long-term vision to conserve America’s great swamp forest,” Piazza said.