Chalmette High students sow seeds of hope along battered St. Bernard Parish coastline

Chalmette High students sow seeds of hope along battered St. Bernard Parish coastline
Published: May. 14, 2018 at 5:10 PM CDT|Updated: May. 14, 2018 at 9:52 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - At a remote spot in St. Bernard Parish, students from Chalmette High School learned some lessons out of the classroom and may have sowed a few seeds of hope in the marsh.

On a tiny spot of land where Bayou la Loutre meets Bay Eloi, members of the 4-H club recently planted nearly more than 1,200 mangrove trees.

Students such as Nick Campo have been nurturing the plants since 2016 in the Chalmette High School greenhouse. Campo, whose family has deep roots in the parish, feels a personal connection to the project.

"We've been working and fishing and having fun in these marshes for over a hundred years," Campo said.

The mangroves, only a couple feet tall including the roots, were planted in an area that has experienced some of the worst land loss along Louisiana's rapidly shrinking coast.

"I've actually learned a lot about how the marsh keeps together," Campo said.  "It's called bank stabilization. It keeps the marsh from washing away."

Most of the roughly 20 students who made this trip are 17 or 18 years old, barely old enough to have vague memories of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated St. Bernard Parish in 2005 and has largely defined life in the parish since then.

"Water has such an impact on your life and everything around it, and it's just slowly going away," said student Destiny Vosbein.

She and fellow club member Emma Roussell planted several crates of the plants.

"It's kind of mind blowing how it happened so fast and you don't even notice it," Roussell said.

When fully grown, this species of mangrove tops out at about 10 feet, more like a tall bush.

However, along islands and shorelines in many parts of the coast, mangroves are like coastal glue as their roots cling to the earth and soil things in place.

"We've had this date penciled on our calendar for over a year now," said John Lane, the St. Bernard Parish Coastal Director.

Mangroves typically grow in Louisiana's warmest places, such as barrier islands in extreme southern Plaquemines Parish.

When Captain Lucas Bissett, an area fishing guide, spotted them in St. Bernard, he knew he was onto something special.

"When I saw them out here and I already knew they were naturally occurring, I thought how can I bolster the natural occurrence and try to get as many as possible?" Bissett said.

That eventually led the Chalmette High and the 4-H club. For nearly a-year-and-a-half, and over the course of two school years, students have nurtured the mangroves in their greenhouse.

Weeks ago, the club members hardened the plants, transitioning them from fresh water to a saltier mix of soil and water.

"They're getting an opportunity to learn about the ecosystem," Bissett said. "We're getting an opportunity to help said ecosystem. It's just a win-win for everybody."

The planting is mostly an education project along a coastline under assault from a number of forces such as subsidence, relative sea level rise and salt water intrusion.

However, it may have some practical application if the seeds of the new plants spread to nearby land.

"While it may not save all of it, we're going to definitely try to save this one part of it," Bissett said.

The program is sponsored by St. Bernard Parish Government; Biloxi Marsh Lands Corporation; Lake Eugenie Land and Development, Incorporated; Orvis; the American Fly Fishing Trade Association; Low Tide Charters; Anglers Benefitting Louisiana's Estuaries; Nicholls State University; the LSU Ag Center; Louisiana Sea Grant; the Meraux Foundation; and the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office.

"This where I grew up," Emma Roussell said.  "So, anything I can do to save it."

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