Wetland growth near mouth of Atchafalaya gives hope of restoring Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta

Wetland growth near mouth of Atchafalaya gives hope of restoring Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta
Despite massive land loss along Louisiana’s coastline, there is one area that's seeing land growth. The Atchafalaya River Delta has been growing since 1932, according to the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority. Scientists hope that by studying this area, they can continue this elsewhere in the state. (Source: WAFB)

MORGAN CITY, La. (WAFB) - Just south of Morgan City, La. at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River, something is happening that gives scientists hope they can halt the Mississippi River Delta’s demise.

By some estimates, Louisiana loses a football field worth of land to the Gulf of Mexico every 100 minutes.

“We’ve lost over 2,000 square miles of coast since 1932,” said Brad Barth with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). “That’s roughly the size of the State of Delaware.”

The land that’s being lost leaves Louisiana vulnerable to storm surges from hurricanes. Robert Twilley, the executive director for Louisiana’s Sea Grant college program, says that was seen in areas like Vermillion Bay and Terrebonne when Hurricane Barry struck the coast in July of 2018.

Twilley says areas at the mouth of the Atchafalaya were largely protected due to the delta being replenished by sediment flowing downriver and being deposited in the wetlands.

“Here is very unique. You actually get to see a delta grow,” he said.

He says the reason The Atchafalaya Basin sees this growth compared to elsewhere in the state is largely due to how the Mississippi River has been engineered for travel and varying flood control measures.

By studying the active Atchafalaya Delta, Twilley and others hope they can re-engineer the Mississippi to deposit sediment along with other areas of the coast and restore the wetlands near New Orleans.

“This is an analog of what we can do with the river,” he said. “It’s simply why we spend so much time here because what we learn here can be applied to building projects over in the New Orleans area and in the basins where we do not have the river, and areas that I call an inactive delta, we can make those landscapes more active and we can predict what they’re going to look like by knowing the activities here.”

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