Standing outside of Mr. Ed’s Seafood & Italian Restaurant—one of the Bucktown, Louisiana, restaurants to come back after Hurricane Katrina—you can look towards Lake Pontchartrain and see … nothing. The street dead ends at the sun-burnt slopes of a 17-foot-high levee built after the storm. While the levees provide essential protection to the residents of storm-battered Jefferson Parish, they severed the community’s long-time connection to the lake and removed key habitat for fish and other species. The new levees are higher and stronger, but they aren’t storm proof. They sink in Louisiana’s soft soil and get scoured by waves each time a storm rolls through.
A new project led by Jefferson Parish strives to address these challenges by constructing a mile-long living shoreline in Bucktown. NOAA has funded more than 200 living shorelines around the country. We are providing $4.5 million for the Bucktown project under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. Living shorelines use natural materials such as rocks and plants to protect coasts from erosion and storm damage while supporting the growth of healthy ecosystems.
Protecting the Protection
Stretching from Bucktown Harbor to the Bonnabel Boat Launch, the living shoreline will consist of nine curved rock jetties. They will provide an added layer of protection for the levees and allow up to 35 acres of marshland and other habitat to be restored. The shoreline, which was designed by the engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol, will also include a protected waterway for kayaking and standup paddle boarding.
“The Bucktown Living Shoreline is a pilot project in coastal resilience and recreation,” says Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken. “It creates another speed bump for storms, restores marsh for a healthier lake, and creates a blueway for healthier people. Creating a better ecosystem makes Lake Pontchartrain more hospitable to the delicious seafood Bucktown is known for.”
The project represents the first time a living shoreline will be used to protect a federal levee system. The vegetation and other material used in living shorelines absorbs and dissipates wave energy, limiting coastal erosion. Living shorelines also trap sediment, allowing them to grow in height as sea level rises.
“This living shoreline is a game changer for the Lake Pontchartrain coast,” says Lauren Averill, the first coastal director for Jefferson Parish who led the effort to bring the concept to a reality. “I’m already getting calls to see how this project can be replicated along the lake."
Creating a Healthy Ecosystem for Fish and People
Bucktown was once a thriving fishing village on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, an estuary that connects freshwater rivers and smaller lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The lake and its encircling wetlands sustained large populations of fresh and saltwater fish, crabs, shrimp, and clams as well as birds like egrets, pelicans, and ducks. However, the loss of marshland contributed to the decline of many species.
The Bucktown project will add native aquatic vegetation and underwater grass beds behind the jetties to create nursery habitat for juvenile fish and species such as blue crabs, the threatened Gulf Sturgeon, and rangia clams. Vital to the health of Lake Pontchartrain, rangia clams filter sediment, pollutants, and other debris, improving water quality and clarity for the whole ecosystem. Waterfowl will also be able to take refuge on the shoreline. At a recently restored marsh directly adjacent to the project, we have seen more than 65 different bird species, including bald eagles.
The marsh will also help fishermen maintain their livelihoods. The historic Bucktown fleet still harvests shrimp, crabs, and fish for local restaurants. "The living shoreline will provide a place for juvenile fish to hide and adults to feed," says Michael Hopkins, Coastal Program Director of the Pontchartrain Conservancy which will conduct monitoring at the site after it is completed. "We expect to see fish like catfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, red drum, and southern flounder."
The greatest benefit of the project may be psychological. “This area was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina,” says Jennifer Smith, Marine Habitat Resource Specialist for NOAA. “The locals are now overjoyed that the shoreline is being rebuilt and they will soon have this recreational space in their backyard."
In addition to the living shoreline, the Parish is constructing a kayak launch and a two-story “bird’s nest” pavilion. It will overlook the restored marsh and include educational signs about the wetlands and wildlife.
"Having this project here, where you can see a marsh, where you can see a living shoreline, this is where we can educate the 99 percent of the population that lives behind our federal levee system," says Van Vrancken. “We could ultimately see this pilot project lead to living shorelines ringing Lake Pontchartrain.”
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is also providing funds for the Bucktown Living Shoreline project.
Under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, NOAA is supporting living shoreline projects in four states, including a project with the Chitimacha Tribe in Bayou Sale, Louisiana. NOAA recently announced a $240 million funding opportunity for Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants which will support projects like living shorelines that restore coastal habitat and strengthen community resilience. Applications are due by November 17, 2023. In addition, NOAA is offering $45 million in funding for similar projects that will advance the priorities of underserved communities and tribes. Applicants must submit by December 19, 2023.