Representatives from the Meraux Foundation joined with multiple partners to install the first phase of the Chandeleur Sound Living Shoreline project late last month. The group installed 20 Artificial Oyster Reefs (AOR) to create a 200-foot-long breakwater barrier off the coast of Comfort Island in Chandeleur Sound. The AOR are cages filled with rocks and installed in a row. Over time, they will grow into a living oyster reef that serves as a barrier against tides and storms, protects against coastal erosion, provides a home for marine life, and cleans surrounding water.
“The Living Shoreline project is a win-win on so many levels,” said Chris Haines, a board member of the Meraux Foundation. “It’s improving our environment, protecting our coastal communities, and providing our young people with skills and career opportunities.”
The idea for the Living Shoreline project was hatched several years back during the Meraux Foundation’s Mississippi River Delta Institute – a teacher exchange program between educators at the headwaters and the delta of the Mississippi River. At the headwaters in Minnesota, Jessica Vallelungo, who led Career and Technical Education (CTE) for St. Bernard Parish Schools, expressed a desire to get welding students involved in coastal restoration projects. Blaise Pezold, the Meraux Foundation Coastal and Environmental Program Manager, suggested welding students could fabricate the AOR. Once they returned to St. Bernard Parish, representatives from the Meraux Foundation, St. Bernard Parish Schools, and Nunez Community College worked together to launch the Living Shoreline program in 2019. All involved give special credit to Vallelungo for initiating the effort.
Through the program, some 40 students from Chalmette High School dual enrolled in Nunez Community College have learned to weld while building the AOR. They have earned course credits, welding certifications, and even wages for their work through the Louisiana Department of Education’s Jumpstart Summer program.
St. Bernard Parish Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier said she is proud to build on the strong partnerships established with Nunez Community College and the Meraux Foundation.
“This was another wonderful opportunity for our students,” Voitier said. “Our students gained paid work experience and utilized the skills learned in class to create a product that will help in the fight to save our coastline. This collaborative effort truly exemplifies our theme of unity this school year.”
Students in the Living Shoreline program gain soft and technical skills necessary to enter high-wage career pathways in the emerging Blue-Green Infrastructure industry.
“Nunez Community College was proud to partner with the Meraux Foundation and St. Bernard Parish Public Schools on this collaborative coastal endeavor,” said Nunez Community College Chancellor Tina Tinney, Ed.D. “In addition to learning real-world skills, we are so proud that our Nunez welding students could lend their specialized skills to an innovative coastal restoration project. This is another example of our college preparing students for high-wage, high-demand jobs while supporting critical community initiatives.”
The Meraux Foundation filed the permit for the project and helped fund the deployment via Cook off for the Coast with partners National Wildlife Federation and Vanishing Paradise. Nunez Community College’s Katherine Lemoine and Lenny Unbehagen helped manage the funding and push the project to completion. And the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office donated vessels and man time to deployment efforts.
The Living Shoreline program dovetails with an oyster shell recycling initiative managed through a partnership between the Meraux Foundation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL), St. Bernard Parish Government, and Two C’s Enterprises, Inc. Instead of going to landfills, shells from restaurants are being used to create Living Shoreline.
“These two small scale initiatives will go a long way toward solving the enormous problems our coastal environments face,” said Pezold.
The Living Shoreline program is made possible through a partnership that includes the Meraux Foundation, Louisiana Department of Education, National Wildlife Federation, Nunez Community College, Southern Service Equipment, St. Bernard Parish Coastal Division, St. Bernard Parish Public Schools, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, and Vanishing Paradise.
“We can’t thank them enough for their contributions and involvement in this critical project,” he said.
About the Meraux Foundation Coastal and Environmental Programs
The Meraux Foundation’s Coastal and Environmental Programs include the Waters to the Sea® Mississippi River Delta Institute, a professional development and educational program; AgMagic on the River, an educational event presented by the LSU AgCenter; Working on the Water, a program to help fishermen grow and pursue new businesses; the Center for Louisiana Citrus Innovation and Research in partnership with the LSU AgCenter; Black Mangrove program in partnership with Chalmette High School and 4-H; Cook-off for the Coast; environmental impact investments and sponsorships; wetland plantings; the Living Shoreline program in partnership with Chalmette High and Nunez Community College; and, several CWPPRA projects; among others.