When the construction now underway to build a nearly 400-acre tract of new marsh is complete in a western pocket of Louisiana’s coastline in late 2023, it will be the foundation of new opportunities for animals and humans alike. The project restores wildlife habitat in an area that was heavily impacted by more than 2 million gallons of highly toxic “slop oil” that spilled into the Calcasieu River in one of the United States’ largest and most toxic oil spills in 2006.
Long Point Bayou, the area selected for the restoration project, is a mix of open water and eroding marshes. Located on the west side of Calcasieu Lake, between the Gulf of Mexico coast and the city of St. Charles, the site adjoins the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge in far southwestern Louisiana. The landscape is broad and flat, dotted with wiry marsh grasses and interrupted by large stretches of dark, brackish water.
The restoration site is immediately adjacent to the area where more than 150 miles of marshy coastal waters were harmed by the 2006 release of slop oil, or crude oil that was deemed a “waste stream.” Released from the CITGO Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex to the north, the spilled oil killed marsh plants, and the shoreline began to erode within 2 weeks of the spill. The slop oil and wastewater also polluted intertidal and subtidal sediments and killed numerous fish and bottom-dwelling organisms. Many birds and their habitats were significantly affected.
A 2021 settlement to address natural resource damages from the spill provided $19 million toward restoration. A restoration plan was finalized in 2022, which included the Long Point Bayou marsh project in the list of restoration actions.
Sediment pumping to build the marsh platforms in Long Point Bayou began Aug. 14, 2023. The project will restore 392 acres of marsh and include eight acres of tidal creeks. This will increase vital habitat for fish, such as red drum, brown and white shrimp, and birds including pelicans, gulls, waterfowl, and marsh birds.
The area has a diversity of habitat and is a vital overwintering area for waterfowl. The project will also create new and enhanced opportunities for hunting, fishing, boating, and other recreational activities for local communities.
The project is being built with sediment dredged from the nearby Calcasieu Shipping Channel and pumped to the project site. This material would otherwise require transport for disposal elsewhere.
Approximately three years after the initial marsh platform is complete and has settled, tidal creeks will be carved out to increase the availability of marsh edge habitat. This edge serves as a highly productive transition zone between the vegetated interior of the marsh and the fluctuating intertidal zone. The newly created marsh and tidal creeks will also benefit two species vulnerable to habitat loss, including the saltmarsh topminnow and the black rail.
“Long Point has been a real good fishing area, but things have changed over the years. People are realizing we have to rebuild our estuary to keep it healthy,” said Rusty Vincent, a local business owner and conservation advocate who grew up fishing in the area. “Anytime you recreate marsh land that feeds the estuary, shrimp, crabs, and fish can go in there. That helps recreational fishing, which is a big, big part of the economy in Cameron Parish.”
Partners and Funding
Collaboration between federal and state partners has been essential to bring this large-scale restoration project to fruition. The project is a partnership effort between NOAA and the state of Louisiana, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency.