Law & Policy Program: Research Projects
Healthy Ecosystems & Habitats
The maintenance and restoration of healthy ecosystems is fundamental to life along Louisiana’s Gulf coast. Coastal development, overfishing, sea level rise, coastal subsidence, loss of barrier islands and other factors have resulted in water quality degradation and hypoxia, decline of fisheries, wetlands loss, proliferation of invasive species, reduced storm and surge protection and a host of other challenges. Louisiana’s invaluable coastal wetlands and forests have suffered most severely from the combined effects of man’s activities and nature’s whims. To restore and preserve the state’s coastal ecosystems, Louisiana Sea Grant promotes innovative research that increases understanding of ecosystem function and implementation of appropriate designs for restoring lost function.
Law & Policy Research Project: Louisiana has always considered itself to be a water rich state; in this environment of water abundance, Louisiana water law developed as more of a hodgepodge than a systematic or comprehensive approach. A series of droughts, overuse of aquifers and new un-contemplated demands for water have left doubts as to whether our somewhat laissez faire attitude towards water allocation and conservation will serve the state’s interests well in the coming decades.
As this lifeblood resource is stretched thinner, it is not too farfetched to imagine that state borders will become less important in regional or even national policy where thirsty human population centers eye water resources outside their state territories that appear to be unused or “wasted.” Conversely, Louisiana may at some point decide it can be a water supplier on a regional scale and thus an important part of the coming “water economy” but must do all it can to ensure it embarks on such endeavors on its own terms. It is evident that Louisiana must identify its current and projected needs for water in the next 50-100 years, including protecting the health of ecosystems and restoring coastal areas, and develop a comprehensive water policy to meet those needs lest our water resources be identified as “surplus” and available to be used elsewhere.
To this end Louisiana should examine all the options available for developing a comprehensive water policy, including the experiences of other states and nations. It will be difficult to overcome the inertia and vested interests of past and current water law, but it is easier to think rationally before a crisis than in the midst of one. Developing model law with input from all interested parties is a logical way to proceed towards consensus on a way forward. To that end, the SGLPP will work with the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to develop materials, including model legislation, which will assist lawmakers in their deliberations concerning water law and policy.
Resilience Communities & Economies
Coastal communities provide vital economic, social and recreational opportunities for thousands of Louisianans, but population migration, especially since Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, have transformed the state’s coastal landscapes and intensified demand on finite coastal resources. These changes are placing tremendous pressure on coastal lands, water supplies and traditional ways of life. To accommodate more people and activity, and to balance growing demands on coastal resources, new policies, institutional capacities and management approaches to guide the preservation and use of coastal and ocean resources must be developed. Additionally, sea level rise, the increased number and intensity of coastal storms, the ongoing threat of oil spills and other natural and human hazards are putting more people and property at risk along Louisiana’s coast, with major implications for human safety and the economic and environmental health of coastal areas. It is essential that residents of coastal communities understand these risks and learn what they can do both to reduce their vulnerability and to respond quickly and effectively when destructive events occur. Louisiana Sea Grant uses its integrated research, training and technical assistance capabilities and its presence in coastal communities to play a major role in helping local citizens, decision-makers and industries plan for hazardous events and optimize their ability to respond to and rebuild after a disaster.
Law & Policy Research Project: The SGLPP has published two documents in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – the Louisiana Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook and the Louisiana Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards. The Guidebook, funded partially by FEMA and published in 2008, is directed towards local governments and policy makers. The emphasis of the Guidebook is on processes local governments can use to institute and encourage adoption of better non-structural hazard mitigation measures in their communities. A lot has happened in the five years since the Guidebook was first published. Other hurricanes have caused significant damage; more and better data has been collected on coastal land elevations; storm surge modeling has been improved; the rate of relative sea level rise has been more accurately calculated, including the predicted effects of continuing climate change; progressive parishes have set examples in land use planning and national policy on disaster mitigation; and flood insurance has radically changed. All of these factors create an environment where people will probably be much more receptive to the techniques outlined in the Guidebook. Updating the Guidebook will allow incorporation of new information on a number of topics and reworking the techniques for hazard mitigation. The SGLPP is working on updates to the Guidebook, including new sections directed towards water-dependent structures, climate change, and flood insurance.
Sustainable Fisheries & Aquaculture
Louisiana has experienced a decline in many of its major fisheries, largely due to both competition from inexpensive imported seafood products and the high cost of fuel for fishing vessels, while seafood consumption nationwide has been simultaneously on the rise. Louisiana Sea Grant, through its research, extension and education activities, and its work with industry partners, has helped to stabilize and improve many sectors of the state’s fisheries industry. According to the NOAA Aquaculture Program, mariculture (aquaculture of saltwater species) is in its infancy in the U.S., amounting to just over $1 billion of a $70 billion worldwide industry. Mariculture creates important new opportunities to meet the increased demand for seafood, but a number of questions need to be addressed for its full potential to be realized. Seafood safety also is a growing concern as international trade increases and fish diseases and contamination of imports loom as larger problems. Louisiana Sea Grant plays key roles in advancing public understanding of the nature of these problems and opportunities.
Law & Policy Research Project: The Louisiana Sea Grant Law & Policy Program has worked closely with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the oyster industry to develop regulations creating an alternative oyster culture permit process. This process allows oyster leaseholders to use a portion of their lease to grow oysters using methods other than cultch on bottom, including long line and cages. Additionally, the Law & Policy Program received a grant in conjunction with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium Legal Program to develop factsheets and other outreach information for fishermen interested in alternative oyster culture across the Gulf States.
Oyster Aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico
In 2012, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program and Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program received funding to evaluate the feasibility of using the value of ecosystem services provided by oyster farming to offset regulatory fees. This work is part of the broader effort of the research team, which includes individuals from Auburn University, Louisiana State University, Shellfish Environmental Services, and Northern Economics Inc., to quantify the economic value of off-bottom oyster aquaculture and its ecosystem services in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Read more
Education & Workforce Development
An environmentally literate person is someone who has a fundamental understanding of the systems of the natural world, the relationships and interactions between the living and non-living environment and the ability to understand and utilize scientific evidence to make informed decisions regarding environmental issues. These issues involve uncertainty and require the consideration of economic, aesthetic, cultural and ethical values. The scientific, technical and communication skills needed to address the daunting environmental challenges confronting our nation are critical to developing a national workforce capacity. The Congressional report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, states that building a workforce literate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is crucial to maintaining America’s competitiveness in a rapidly changing global economy. These skills are also necessary to advance cutting-edge research and to promote enhanced resource management. In recognition of these needs, the America COMPETES Act mandates that NOAA build on its historic role in stimulating excellence in the advancement of ocean and atmospheric science and engineering disciplines. The Act also mandates NOAA provide opportunities and incentives for the pursuit of academic studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Workforce needs are reflected in the broader science and technology communities of both the private and public sectors with whom Louisiana Sea Grant works to fulfill its mission.
Law & Policy Research Project: The SGLPP employs up to six law students from Louisiana law schools and provides real-world training on coastal and environmental law, natural resource law, ocean law, land use and planning law, and administrative law. This training is not available through the state’s law schools, and our graduates overwhelmingly report that what they learned though the SGLPP was vital to their careers after graduation. Our legal interns have the opportunity to draft memorandum and articles, attend trainings and workshops, engage directly with local governments and other constituents, and give presentations at workshops and conferences. This breadth of training is not often found in the private sector or through state externships. Many of our graduates continue to work in this area, making the training we provide beneficial to our constituents well into the future. More information about our intern and extern programs is available here.