Community Building and Recovery in Coastal Louisiana – Summer 2011

Sarah and Heidi will be living and working in Chauvin, Louisiana this summer.  This area of coastal Louisiana has many needs, including economic, health, and environmental. Residents are typically employed by industries such as commercial and recreational fishing, and offshore oil, all of which have been hit by many recent and cascading catastrophes.  On average, this area has been hit by a hurricane once every 7 years over the past 150 years.  Most of the area is between 0 and 4 feet above sea level, making it very vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surge, and coastal erosion and land loss.  About 200,000 acres a year are sinking into the ocean, which is equivalent to one football field every 30-38 minutes.  This decline began about 80 years ago when engineers blocked the Mississippi from flowing into the delta, and is also exacerbated by hurricanes.

Along with an undergraduate Duke Engage program, Sarah and Heidi will be living at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium marine laboratory, and working with both the Smithridge Development Corporation and the Bayou Grace Community Services in Terrebonne Parish.  The mission of Bayou Grace is to create active partnerships among area leaders, organizations, and schools in environmental outreach, community development and education. Sarah and Heidi will work closely with the community in Terrebonne Parish to design and develop a community garden to be used for gathering, socializing, and as a memorial to community members who died in a boating accident in the 1930s.  Part of their summer work will also include working with the community to record the local history through interviews and surveying local residents, researching community resilience and sustainability, and participating in wetland restoration events.  However, the most important part of their summer may be learning what it is like on a day to day basis for the people who live in this vulnerable community with constant uncertainties and hardships.  And of course venturing into New Orleans for some of the famed food and music!

Leave a Reply