Sculpting With Sand: How Oil Spill Penalties Are Bringing Back Vanishing Dunes and Beaches

Countless anglers leaving from Grand Isle and Port Fourchon in the late-spring and summer venture to Elmer’s Island, and the adjacent Fourchon Beach, each year in search of speckled trout, redfish, flounder, and the occasional drag-screaming jack crevalle. Others go there simply to put out crab lines and enjoy a relaxing day of beachcombing and building sandcastles with the kids. Elmer’s is managed by Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and is one of just a handful of state-managed public beaches that allow vehicles.

elmers-island-speckled-trout-web“It’s hard to even estimate how many thousands of people fish that beach every summer,” says Grand Isle guide Capt. Frank Dreher, who regularly takes his clients to Elmer’s and Fourchon beaches in his 24-foot bay boat. “Especially when we get those light southeast winds in July and August, it looks like you can hop from boat to boat as far as you can see, and it seems like someone in each boat is fighting a fish. The fishing out there is just that good.”

The area has been even more popular this spring, when word quickly spread that wading anglers were consistently catching 3 to 6 pound speckled trout, healthy redfish, and even a rare surf-dwelling cobia on topwater and hard-plastic suspending baits. Even when surf conditions have been too rough to fish the beach from a boat, wade fishermen have been making nice hauls of fat trout.

Stretching for about 14 miles in all, Elmer’s and Fourchon Beach make up the Caminada Headland, a large part of the bottom of the Barataria Basin, created by sediment deposits from the Mississippi River centuries ago, when Bayou Lafourche served as the river’s mouth. Though the area regularly gives up limits of trout, redfish, and crabs, unfortunately, it has also been giving up its beaches, dunes, and marshes to the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of nearly 45 feet per year for the last century. A lack of sediment input, combined with hurricane damage and saltwater intrusion, is chipping away at the headland.

This was also home to some of the worst onshore oiling in the months and years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010. Elmer’s was closed to public access for nearly a year after the oil well was capped and closed again for months after Hurricane Isaac washed up and unearthed more oil in August 2012. Cleanup efforts damaged the headland’s beaches and dunes making the soils even more susceptible to erosion.

elmer's-pumping_webThe Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is aggressively tackling this loss by investing more than $220 million dollars in three projects aimed at rebuilding damaged beaches and dunes and enhancing storm-ravaged back-barrier marshes in the area. In late summer 2013, crews began pumping sand, mined from more than 27 miles away on Ship Shoal, onto the beach near Belle Pass, in phase one of the Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration project.

Phase two will restore the remaining eight miles, including the surf-fishing areas on Elmer’s Island. Construction began earlier this month and should be completed by late 2016, thanks to funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is distributing $1.2 billion in oil spill penalties to build barrier islands, headlands, and freshwater- and sediment-diversions in Louisiana.

At the same time, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act Task Force has approved construction of a joint project between CPRA and the Environmental Protection Agency to rebuild more than 300 acres of marsh behind the newly-repaired beaches and dunes over the next two years.

The three projects perfectly represent the kinds of habitat restoration and sustainability projects recommended by recreational fishermen, scientists, researchers, and conservation groups across the five Gulf of Mexico states in the “Gulf of Mexico Recreational Fisheries: Recommendations for Restoration, Recovery and Sustainability” report, released by TRCP in October 2013.

Capt. Dreher has had a firsthand look at some of the other projects to restore beaches and dunes in the lower Barataria Basin, and he likes the results. He compares the restoration of the Caminada Headlands to recently-completed restoration projects at Bay Joe Wise and East Grand Terre Island, both near his Grand Isle launching point.

“When the projects were being built, the water was obviously dirty in the area, and the fishing changed some from what we were used to seeing when the beaches were falling apart,” he says. “But, before you know it, the fishing is back to normal and even better, in some cases. The sand bars, troughs, humps, and irregular bottom that make the beaches productive come back quickly. The rebuilt marshes look healthy. The birds and fish are all over them. I’m looking forward to seeing the same things at the rebuilt Elmer’s and Fourchon beaches sometime soon.”

Visit the TRCP’s Center for Marine Fisheries for more information on our Gulf of Mexico work and current initiatives. 

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Sculpting With Sand: How Oil Spill Penalties Are Bringing Back Vanishing Dunes and Beaches

One Response

  1. I Have Read Your Article its Amazing Thanks For Sharing Your Knowledge..
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    Noman August 20, 2019 at 1:52 am #

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