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State of the Louisiana Coast
by -- July 1st, 2012

So today was Day 1 of the State of the Coast conference held by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL). Leland and I got up bright and early, donned our CRCL Volunteer t-shirts (paired with black dress pants… it was an interesting look), and headed out of our hotel into the already warm & muggy morning. The convention center where the conference was being held is a little less than a mile away and is kind of an interesting walk through the Business District. Lots of hotels and a good number of restaurants as well.

Since neither of us had registration duty this morning, we retrieved our name badges and our complimentary conference tote with a few bits of paperwork then headed for the main exhibit hall where the booths and posters are set up. After making our first round through the booths, I remembered one of the best things about conferences… free stuff! I now have more pens and drink koozies than I know what to do with.

Not much later, everyone headed into the ballroom on the second floor for the opening speeches. The governor of Louisiana was supposed to attend and give a speech but precautionary planning meetings for Tropical Storm Debby apparently took precedent. Once the opening concluded, the crowd dispersed to attend the presentations. As part of my “scholarship” to attend the conference, I am working as a volunteer note-taker/session monitor, so I made my way to Meeting Room 257, where one of the three concurrent presentation sessions was being held. As a note-taker/session monitor, my job is to arrive early, load & open all the presenters’ slideshows on the laptop/projector, and then take notes during each presentation. The notes from presentations, taken by volunteers like me, are compiled and published after the conference by CRCL. The first session had 4 presentations and lasted until noon, at which time, everyone returned to the ballroom for lunch. This session and the one after lunch that I attended were both centered around the topic of GIS data and topographic mapping. A few of the presentations went into detail about the different web applications/sites that offer dynamic data regarding coastal erosion, salinity, vegetation etc. as well as maps of the Louisiana coast through time. I think these will be very helpful tools as part of my Masters Project. After lunch, I returned to Room 257 to continue as a note-taker & session monitor. Each volunteer must fill this role for 2 sessions, so I’m done with that portion of my volunteering now.

After a short refreshment break, the third and final session of presentations began. The topic of this session was Wetlands & Hurricanes and focused mainly on how hurricanes impact coastal marshes and also lead to the development of inland ponds through erosion.

The leading sponsor of this conference is a company called Hesco, which Leland and I worked with on a wetland restoration project at Little Lake a couple weeks ago. Hesco creates these metal grate baskets that are about 3′(l) x 3′(w) x 4′(d) and are lined with heavy duty cloth. The baskets are lined up and filled with sand to create strong water barriers & sediment trappers. For the restoration we did at Little Lake (which is not so little anymore because of all the erosion), the Hesco baskets were placed across a manmade inlet that needed to be repopulated by marsh plants and filled first with sand bags and then with Gulf Saver Bags. Gulf Saver Bags were created by Restore the Earth and are approximately the size of sand bag but are made of burlap and filled with dirt and organic fertilizer. You cut slits in the bags then place plugs of cordgrass and/or other marsh plants in the slits. The fertilizer helps jump start growth so that the marsh can grow quickly and avoid being washed away before getting the chance to settle. So essentially the Hesco baskets act as a strong barrier against waves while also providing a place for marsh plants to be planted and allowed to grow large enough to hold sediment.

And back to the original thought, as Hesco is a lead sponsor, they hosted a cocktails & appetizers event in the exhibit hall at the end of the day. Appetizers, however, turned into dinner as they served 3 different kinds of jambalaya, sliders, beignets, and pralines (that were to die for!!!). It was a great opportunity to mingle as well, so Leland and I touched base with a few of the people we have been working with down here in Louisiana (it seems that everyone we know is at this conference). After a couple hours of mingling, we hefted our totes and computers onto our shoulders once more and headed back to the hotel. An early night tonight so we can be up bright and early for Day 2 tomorrow.

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