NOAA and partners are leading a massive 1,200-acre marsh creation project in Louisiana’s Barataria Basin that will create habitat, reduce erosion, and protect coastal communities. The Upper Barataria Marsh Creation project is one of the largest habitat restoration efforts led by NOAA to date and will build upon our previous efforts to restore wetland habitats in Louisiana.
This project will support diverse species of fish and wildlife and help lessen the impact of future storms. As such, this project is instrumental in not only restoring and creating habitat, but also supporting NOAA’s goals and priorities for climate resilience. Additionally, it will provide more than 140 construction-related jobs, further enhancing habitat restoration’s economic benefits in the region.
The project was approved by the Deepwater Horizon Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group to restore habitats impacted by the 2010 oil spill. It is underway through NOAA’s strong partnership with the Louisiana Coastal Protection Authority, who are leading Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan.
Key Project Benefits
History and Importance of Louisiana’s Wetlands
Wetlands are a pivotal part of the natural system, providing tremendous benefits for coastal ecosystems and communities. They provide us with clean water, habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, and countless opportunities for recreation, from hunting and fishing to hiking to observing wildlife. Additionally, wetlands provide Louisiana with its first line of defense during storms by reducing the detrimental effects of wind, waves, and flooding.
However, Louisiana has lost 1,800 square miles of land since 1932—and continues to lose approximately one football field of land every one to two hours. In the lifetime of a child born today, approximately 800,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands will be lost, moving the coastline inland by 33 miles in some areas. This will impact wildlife habitat and fisheries.
The Mississippi River delta naturally compacts and subsides over time, but historically the river would replenish the delta with new sediment. Levees meant to protect areas from flooding contained the river, but inadvertently cut off the supply of new sediment to surrounding marsh areas. As the land subsides and sea level rises, the open water of the Gulf of Mexico moves closer and closer to the communities of southern Louisiana. This problem requires solutions on a grand scale.
Pumping sediment from the river to the marsh will replace some of the sediment starved from the estuary when it was separated from the river by levees. The newly created marsh areas will not only protect communities from storms and flooding but will also provide a home for many of the animals that are so important to the Louisiana economy. Species like white shrimp, blue crabs, and redfish need these protected habitats to survive.
Habitat Restoration After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil well drilling platform started the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. For 87 days after the explosion, the well blasted oil and natural gas continuously and uncontrollably into the northern Gulf of Mexico. In all, an estimated 134 million gallons of oil was released, fouling the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
After the spill, state and federal agencies undertook an intense scientific study of the impacts of the spill. They used this assessment to develop a science-based, comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA led development of the comprehensive restoration plan, along with the five Gulf States and three additional federal partners that comprise the Deepwater Horizon Trustee Council, a joint federal and state body now overseeing restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since 2018, the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group, a joint effort of the State of Louisiana and federal trustees, has prepared the Strategic Restoration Plan for the Barataria Basin and has undertaken one of the largest habitat restoration efforts: the Upper Barataria Marsh Creation project.
The project contractor, Weeks Marine, Inc., began construction in late 2021. To maximize cost effectiveness, the project will have one construction phase and take approximately 26 months to complete. There are four construction stages:
- Late 2021 – Assemble equipment at the project site and begin construction
- January to early May 2021 – Construct earthen dike to contain dredged material
- Early May to early December 2022 – Dredge sediment from the Mississippi River and pump to contained areas for marsh creation
- January to May 2023 – Remove equipment from the project site
The construction process will fill target areas with approximately 8.4 million cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Mississippi River and pumped through a pipeline over 13 miles. That’s almost enough sediment to fill two Superdome stadiums!
The area will be planted with native marsh species which will help address the land loss crisis of the Barataria Basin. The basin has lost more than 276,000 acres of land since the 1930s. Wetlands in the basin were the most heavily impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which accelerated a severe land loss trend threatening Louisiana’s estuaries. Monitoring of the creation site will take place to ensure anticipated outcomes are achieved.
Explore the Project
How Restoration Happens
Dredging for Restoration
A special dredge on the Mississippi River carves sediment from a "take" area on the river bottom, then pumps it to the Upper Barataria marsh creation area 13 miles away.
A 13-mile pipeline transports millions of gallons of sediment from the Mississippi River to rebuild eroded marshlands in coastal Louisiana.
Marsh Creation in Action
Building marshlands in coastal Louisiana involves dredging and pumping sediment from the Mississippi River, then carefully shaping it to function like a natural marsh.
At the "outfall," sediment pumped from the Mississippi River sprays from the end of a 13-mile pipe, and becomes the foundation of new Louisiana marshland.
Why We Are Restoring Habitat Here
What the Restoration Process Looks Like
Below, see some recent photos of the project site from November 2022. All photos are courtesy Patrick M. Quigley, www.gulfcoastairphoto.com. More aerial photos of the Upper Barataria Marsh Creation project are available, too.
Donna Rogers, Project Manager: Donna.Rogers@noaa.gov
For more information on the Upper Barataria marsh creation project, please visit the Louisiana Restoration Area section of the Deepwater Horizon Trustee Council website.
Information about other projects in Louisiana can be found through the interactive Gulf Spill Restoration Projects map.