SHOWCASING LOUISIANA: Fighting erosion with floating islands and plastic bottles

Conservationists, corporations, and school children work together to rebuild the marsh

SHOWCASING LOUISIANA: Fighting erosion with floating islands and plastic bottles

CYPREMORT POINT, La. (WAFB) - “Get helping with erosion!” It’s a plea from Abigail Klusman.

The young lady from Baton Rouge is part of the next generation, hoping the generation running the planet now is listening. She’ll be happy to know that one group certainly is, and has been for a while.

For the last 35 years, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) has been doing what they can to fight back against erosion, but for the last decade or so, that has included something new.

A floating islands mat installed in 2011 by CCA has now grown to be part of the marsh in Pointe Aux Chennes, La.
A floating islands mat installed in 2011 by CCA has now grown to be part of the marsh in Pointe Aux Chennes, La. (Source: WAFB)

It used to be all about the health of Louisiana fisheries, but now, they’re literally trying to grow land.

“They are islands using recycled materials,” said David Cresson, executive director of CCA. “Then we plant native grasses into the recycled islands and then anchor them to the coastline across Louisiana.”

It sounds like a big task, and something almost too far-fetched. And how about this? A company in Baton Rouge is helping to lead the way.

Martin Ecosystems has been around for about ten years. They make a few products, but they’re well known for those islands, which are made out of recycled plastic bottles. Through a bit of engineering magic, they turn those bottles into something they call “the matrix.”

“The best way to describe the matrix is a large Brillo pad," Nicole Waguespack, president of Martin Ecosystem, said.

That’s the simple way Waguespack details the matrix, and it’s pretty spot on. After they have the big Brillo pad, they drill some holes in it and get it ready for its next life: those artificial islands that young Abigail can’t wait to get out into the water.

“We’re going to be building rafts out of plastic bottles, which we will sail out into the bay,” she said. “That’s where we will plant marsh grass, which will allow us to save our ecosystem in Louisiana from all the erosion.”

It’s pretty incredible hearing that from someone so young right? But that’s the thing. When they launch these islands, they always have young kids come out to be a part of it.

It’s the future, helping to hopefully change a part of their future, because the past and our present are all trying to tell us something.

A group of volunteers prepare and launch floating islands made out of recycled plastic into Vermilion Bay at Cypremort Point State Park in Cypremort Point, La., on April 12, 2019.
A group of volunteers prepare and launch floating islands made out of recycled plastic into Vermilion Bay at Cypremort Point State Park in Cypremort Point, La., on April 12, 2019. (Source: Nick Gremillion)
A group of volunteers prepare and launch floating islands made out of recycled plastic into Vermilion Bay at Cypremort Point State Park in Cypremort Point, La., on April 12, 2019.
A group of volunteers prepare and launch floating islands made out of recycled plastic into Vermilion Bay at Cypremort Point State Park in Cypremort Point, La., on April 12, 2019.

“It’s just deteriorating at a high and alarming rate,” said Waguespack of her hometown family property in Lafourche Parish. “There’s not a lot of marsh left. Where there used to be canals, it’s just wide open water now.”

Of course, she could be talking about almost any spot in Louisiana losing land right now. That’s why her family is so passionate about these projects. It’s personal and it’s working.

“What we find in some of these cases is the artificial islands, the floating islands, outperform the natural marsh because they have this added layer of protection,” said Cresson.

And that’s very encouraging news. The idea is to float these islands out to where they are needed and have the grasses they planted in them eventually grow through. The goal is for their roots to eventually anchor themselves to the land below. The first project like this was launched back in 2011 in Terrebonne Parish and it’s still going strong, like many of their others.

Three floating islands mats installed by CCA in 2011 have now become part of the marsh in Pointe Aux Chenes, La.
Three floating islands mats installed by CCA in 2011 have now become part of the marsh in Pointe Aux Chenes, La. (Source: Nick Gremillion)

This latest one is in Vermilion Bay, south of Lafayette. From marshes and bayous, to open bodies of water, the idea is to help stop erosion where ever it’s happening.

“If we don’t do something about it, we are going to find ourselves at a point of no return. We’re approaching that point already,” said Cresson.

And he should know, he sees it every day. But you know who else sees it? That next generation we are leaving all our problems to handle.

“It’s literally causing everything to go,” said Abigail. “It might not sound like much right now, but in a couple years, all the sand would be gone.”

And in Louisiana, sand equals land. How much of it can be saved? These floating islands are a very creative tool in the fight, but it’s a fight we all need to be a part of and can’t afford to lose.

For more information about the Coastal Conservation Association and how you can donate or volunteer with their the Floating Islands project, click here. To learn more about Martin Ecosystems, click here.

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