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Restoration projects like this one at Bayou Bonfouca are helping rebuild wetlands along the Louisiana coast.

An Optimistic Vision for a Thriving Gulf Coast

April 30, 2020
A new report argues the future of coastal Louisiana can be brighter than many believe.

What would it look like if the largest-funded restoration effort in history was wildly successful?

What if the billions of dollars coming to the Louisiana coast built up bountiful barrier islands, lush marshes and productive oyster reefs? What if that also provided fertile fishing grounds, productive estuaries and important protection from hurricanes for the 2 million people who live, work and play in southeast Louisiana?

Can we imagine what it might look and feel like to be a part of such a bountiful system?

Enter – a resource that explores those questions and paints a picture of what might happen if, together, we are wildly successful in restoring Louisiana’s coast.

The vision is based on a paper by Dr. Don Boesch and informed by the efforts of a whole community of coastal advocates and experts.

Don, a 2019 Walton Family Foundation fellow, anchored the research underpinning this optimistic, but grounded vision of a possible future coast.

His paper, Envisioning the Future of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, draws on the expertise of the coastal science community and the team behind the State of Louisiana’s ambitious Coastal Master Plan to investigate where working towards a positive, proactive vision might help the Louisiana planning and project-selection processes achieve even greater success.

In his report, Don offers a “plausible best case” for action that ensures a brighter future for coastal Louisiana than its current reality, in which a football field of land is lost every 100 minutes.

Don describes a vision in which “most of Louisiana’s coastal landscape will be sustained over the next half-century by reinstating and managing the processes that built them” over centuries.

“This does not mean that coastal land loss does not present a crisis. Timely actions are still needed,” Don writes.

The future of coastal Louisiana, he says, will be determined by the pace of sea-level rise, the amount of freshwater and sediment carried into the region from the Mississippi River and our ability to manage the landscape with successful restoration projects that rebuild critical wetlands.

The most up-to-date science tells us we have a window of time, if we act now and with conviction, before sea-level rise gravely limits our options.

We can grow new land that can keep up with rising seas by reconnecting the Mississippi River to our coastal wetlands. To have a “reasonable chance” of protecting the coastal zone of Louisiana from inundation, leaders will need to make bold, science-based decisions to stabilize climate change to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels during this century, Don writes.

In Louisiana, the state’s “working coast” is used to change. Key industries, from oil and gas to seafood production, have long adapted and will continue to do so.

And not all change is bad.

River diversion projects that build new wetlands, for instance, can create more opportunities to harvest freshwater species such as crawfish and new recreation and ecotourism activities.

“While adapting to the changes in the work done along the coast, my vision is that we will also adapt how we exploit and sustain its bountiful living resources,” Don writes.

“Reconnecting the river's constructive forces to sustain coastal ecosystems will alter the distribution of these resources, but also provide opportunities to enhance the overall productivity of fish, shellfish and wildlife. We will also modernize how we cultivate and utilize these resources to enhance their value.”

Workers restore beach on the Caminada Headlands along the Louisiana coast.

In the 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Walton Family Foundation has partnered with communities, business leaders, scientists, advocates, hunters, fishers and public officials in an effort to see the largest-funded environmental restoration project in the world –the Louisiana coastal restoration program – get underway and make real progress.

We are still at the beginning of these ambitious efforts to protect Louisiana’s vulnerable coast, but there is credible evidence that this work can succeed.

To mobilize the support, the political will and the resources we need to get across the finish line, we believe we need to share a common vision of what a wildly successful restored coast could look and feel like.

As Don writes, “We have the scientific and technical capacity to meet these challenges.” The question is, “Do we have the will?”

We hope the conversation will invite you in, and you’ll share your vision for a wildly successful restored coast. Be a part of it here.

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