Restoration important in local waterways

The American Press

There’s no doubt that the Louisiana coast has changed over the past century, and with it Southwest Louisiana’s coastal waterways.

Due to a combination of Calcasieu Ship Channel dredging, natural disasters and coastal erosion, saltwater has made its way farther north in Calcasieu Lake, causing marine life like oysters — which once thrived in the area — to die off.

A variety of efforts are underway to control salinity levels, stop erosion and make the lake more habitable, one of which is the Coastal Conservation Association’s artificial reef program. 

The program has constructed 20 artificial reefs throughout Louisiana since it began in 2000, each providing shelter and feeding ground to oyster and bait fish. Three of the reefs were built in Calcasieu Lake, the latest of which, Big Jack’s Reef, is now under construction in the eastern part of the lake.

Workers are busy placing concrete pilings donated by Lotte Chemical and crushed concrete onto a six-acre stretch of lake bottom. The area is expected to serve as an oyster breeding ground and fishing hot spot, as predatory fish like trout, red fish and flounder visit the area to feed on bait fish populations.

John Walter, CCA habitat committee chairman, told the American Press last week that, by constructing artificial reefs, the CCA is “just mimicking what happened in nature millenniums ago.” 

“We’re replacing what’s being lost in nature with these manmade, more durable materials that can stand the test of time,” Walter said.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries split the $350,000 cost with the CCA, each receiving funding primarily through industry grants and donations. Walter said construction should take two weeks tops. 

The CCA’s artificial reef program is a smart, achievable way to restore lost habitats in Calcasieu Lake. Having industry — which has contributed to habitat loss through dredging and other practices that speed erosion — foot the bill was an ingenious part of its plan.

But longterm solutions to control salinity and stop coastal erosion are still needed, lest the new habitats suffer a similar fate as the old.

Let’s hope the CCA’s example inspires other restoration efforts to tackle habitat loss with similar prudence and initiative.

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