A $16 million home renovation gives new life to Louisiana’s Rabbit Island

Oil spill settlement money funds island restoration
Updated: Feb. 17, 2021 at 9:50 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Heavy equipment works to raise the elevation on a speck of real estate that barely rises above Lake Calcasieu south of Lake Charles.

Contractors for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are raising Rabbit Island.

“It’s significant because it’s the only brown pelican colony we have in Southwest Louisiana,” said Todd Baker, CPRA Project Manager.

On a recent visit to the site, a few dozen pelicans hung out along the shoreline or chased a nearby crab boat for scraps.

The Louisiana brown pelican stands as one of conservation’s great success stories, no longer listed as endangered.

“In Louisiana, the pelicans face the same crisis that we do,” Baker said.

Like much of the coast, Rabbit Island in recent years has been rapidly sinking and eroding.

The $16 million project used dredge material to add a couple a couple feet of height to the island, where the average elevation had been just 1.01 feet.

“On average, 50 percent of the nests that were generated on Rabbit were getting flooded,” said Jon Wiebe, Biologist Manager at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

While 550 nesting pairs of pelicans nested there in 2020, 195 pairs had gathered there by 2018.

Settlement money from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill paid for the work from a pot of money set aside for natural resource restoration.

“Many of the birds that were in the spill that we rehabilitated were released on Rabbit Island,” Wiebe said.

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