AKERS, LA (WAFB) - A group of researchers at Southeastern Louisiana University is doing a pilot study to determine whether recycled Christmas trees can be used to restore Louisiana's wetlands.
The Environmental Science students are giving hundreds of old, dried up Christmas trees new life. The shrubs are part of a study to see if the trees can be used to fill in ditches created by cypress loggers more than a century ago. Professor Rob Moreau pointed to the countless trenches scattered about 10,000 miles of marsh in the Manchac Wildlife Management Area.
"These little lines in the marsh. Those are all logging ditches that are still open," Moreau said.
To get a better understanding of what they are and how they impact the environment, Dr. Moreau has made his students a part of the restoration process.
A handful of his best and brightest students loaded a pontoon boat with Christmas trees before they headed down the Galva Canal.
During their five mile cruise on Pass Manchac, Dr. Moreau pointed out what was once a viable cypress swamp turned marsh. Salt water has moved into the wetlands, which has caused erosion.
"It's still a very productive system too. There's a lot of wildlife that inhabit this land and water," Moreau said.
Dr. Moreau and a team of ecologists believe the trees will help fill in the holes in the environment. Once the boat docks at the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, the crew drags the trees onto a boardwalk down a winding trail through the marsh to a staging area. The view disturbed one of the students, Madison Lindsay.
"A lot of our stuff is degrading out here and we didn't even know about it," Lindsay said.
Another research team will randomly place the trees in the ditches. To date, Dr. Moreau said 35,000 trees have been deployed in the marsh.
"If those trees capture sediment they should serve as a marsh base for plants to start growing in," Moreau said.
He took a short walk to a nearby logging ditch to check the progress on the trees dumped last year. So far, it appears, the project is working.
"This is three corner grass growing up in the Christmas tree batches," Moreau said.
It has taken several months, but Dr. Moreau and his students note, it is progress.
"Obviously it's helping. It's really great research that has helped so much, and the more (trees) we have the more it can help with our future," Lindsay said.
Not just the marsh, but eventually to help restore Louisiana's battered coast.
If researchers find the five year study is successful, Dr. Moreau said he will take the results to Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries to see if it is interested in expanding the research to other marshes.
The pilot study is currently in its second year.