NOAA 2000-120
Contact: Kate Naughten


NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources recently installed a first-of-a-kind habitat restoration test project on Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands. The project, which included the installation of 1,500 smooth cordgrass plants (Spartina alterniflora), is unique because it will provide specific information on the most effective way to restore the islands and, ultimately, protect important wetlands.

"This is the kind of innovative work we need to protect Louisiana's coastal wetlands," said Penny Dalton, the director of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

For the test phase, federal and state partners worked with staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to plant three sites. These sites, all located on the north half of the island chain, are subject to the prevailing wind and overwash from the ocean. At the end of the summer, scientists will determine which planting design worked best based on the conditions. Then, that data will be used to design the main part of the Chandeleur restoration project which will include the installation of more than 100,000 plants in the spring of 2001.

"We recognize that the coastal environment is ecologically stressed. By using this test phase approach we'll find out what areas and elevations are most appropriate
for planting," said Rick Hartman, the NOAA Fisheries Service branch chief in Baton Rouge, La. "The pilot project will help us save time and money and ultimately ensure the success of next year's major planting effort on the Chandeleur Islands."

In the main phase of the planting, the partners will plant 364 acres of cordgrass on numerous shallow areas of the islands to stabilize un-vegetated areas which will trap sediment creating an additional 70 plus acres of marshes. Additionally, the project will protect up to 30 acres of the main island's habitat through wave reduction and sediment trapping. Over time, the project is expected to restore 450 acres of habitat on the islands, which will help maintain this critical barrier island.

The Chandeleur Islands may be the last of an old delta, but it is our first line of defense against hurricanes and damaging storms in the Pontchartrain Basin," said Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jack Caldwell.

The Chandeleur Islands project was funded under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (Breaux Act). It is notable that the Chandeleur planting is the first Breaux Act project to receive construction approval under the new cash-flow process. The goal of this process is to build high potential restoration projects faster.

The Chandeleur Islands are a 72-kilometer-long barrier island chain located in easternmost St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, La. The islands are bounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the north, south and east, and by Chandeleur and Breton sounds to the west.

The islands comprise the remnant land mass of a 2,500 year old delta abandoned by the Mississippi River during one of its many changes in course since the last ice age. In 1998, Hurricane Georges passed within five miles of the islands and created more than 100 washover channels through the barrier chain. Evaluation of post-storm periods dating to 1853 shows elevated rates of shoreline retreat of the barrier chain. A limited window of opportunity exists to take low-cost measures that will stabilize the islands; and which a vegetative planting project will achieve this goal.

Enacted in 1990, the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act -also called the Breaux Act - provides funds for protecting, restoring and preserving threatened coastal wetlands, primarily in Louisiana. Currently, NOAA Fisheries and other partners are implementing large-and small-scale restoration projects benefitting more than 80,000 acres with approximately $75 million in project funding.

More information on the project is available on the NOAA Restoration Center home page,