- The America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF), in partnership with BHP and Resource Environmental Solutions (RES), today convened community, business and civic leaders at the Coastal Wetland Communities Adaptation Leadership Forum held at Nicholls State University to face the challenges of adapting to higher land loss predictions and rising sea levels.
Participants addressed opportunities for transitional and innovative projects that align with community goals and are important to achieving success with large-scale projects and assessed the adaptability of the region, taking a generational approach to sustaining culture, economies, and the environment.
Opening the forum, King Milling, board chairman of AWF, said, "In light of revised land loss maps that expand the probability of risk of sea level rise and storm surge, we examined what adaptation looks like and the importance of private sector investment and partnerships in projects that are consistent with and add value to the greater efforts of the state and parishes," Milling said.
The forum comes seven years after a first-in-the-nation series of resiliency forums were held by AWF along the Gulf, including one in Houma, sharing data from an Entergy-sponsored study that showed by zip code the vulnerability of infrastructure and communities.Today's forum took new land loss predictions into account and looked to the future for coastal wetland communities and their ability to remain resilient.
"In this region where I grew up, the effects of the rising tide and the land loss it brings show impacts on a daily basis," Valsin Marmillion, AWF managing director, said. "In South Louisiana we count our years by the generations of families who have given the unique culture to the area, be they the first people, Native Americans, or those with French or African roots.This forum asks the question as the first climate refugees emerge, 'How do we adapt to a changing ecosystem to remain a viable community?'"
Two recently announced restoration projects in Terrebonne Parish by the partnership of AWF, RES and BHP, showcased the positive impact private investment can have when NGOs and parishes work together to complement broader protection and restoration efforts.
"This Coastal Communities Adaptation Forum will address opportunities for transitional and innovative projects that align with parish goals and are important to achieving optimum success with large-scale projects. Our recent announcement of two projects in South Terrebonne, which are funded by BHP, falls into the category of private sector initiatives that support progress in coastal protection made by the parish," said Rachel Archer, BHP's General Manager for the Gulf of Mexico.
"As a company with deep Louisiana roots, we are proud to be part of this effort to encourage and ensure the private sector plays a meaningful role in an 'all of the above' strategy to fund and implement projects that protect our coastal wetlands," Elliott Bouillion, RES CEO, said. "The timing is right, as we're seeing the 'three legs of the stool' in place - an exchange of projects compatible with communities' master plans; a business community that is maturing its approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) investments; and an experienced ecological restoration industry that can implement large, complex projects efficiently."
John Doucet, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Nicholls and a Lafourche Parish native, told participants the parishes of Lafourche and Terrebonne would ultimately define the adaptation generation just as the migration from the lower reaches of Terrebonne Parish are defining the current generation forced to retreat. "Let's keep our land and cultures alive by planning for our future generations and take advantage of our natural resources, whether through traditional employment in a working wetland or a restored ecosystem for ecotourism," Doucet said.
The two new private sector projects are a prelude to the launch of the Louisiana Coastal Exchange LCX, an expanding registry of privately-sponsored restoration initiatives, designed consistent with the state's coastal master plan as transitional projects to enhance biodiversity. The LCX is administered by the Foundation with an advisory panel of key coastal scientists and leaders, whose honorary co-chairs are Representatives Walt Leger, Louisiana Speaker Pro-tempore, and Jerome "Zee" Zeringue, who represents Terrebonne Parish.
"The citizens of my district are committed to our place here on earth," said Representative Zeringue. "We love our land, our culture, and our way of life and we understand, in no uncertain terms, that what we do for the rest of the nation is critical and must be sustained. We have taken the steps to help finance our own protection and are eager to work with private partnerships like BHP and RES and America's WETLAND to restore our natural environment as a line of defense for that protection.This is what it will take to stay resilient for future generations."
State Representative Walt Leger, said, "Projects through partnerships like the ones we have seen today can bolster larger efforts by the parishes and the state and can make the difference in holding the line in critical areas not covered by the master plan. The Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX) has tremendous potential to match projects deemed important and consistent with the plan with companies holding interests along our coast."
Click here for a copy of the program from the Forum
Check here for a copy of R. King Milling's Opening Remarks