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Research Projects for 2022-2024 Funding Cycle Announced

Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) is continuing to fund relevant research projects that address information gaps for coastal Louisiana communities and deal with the state’s connection to water — from the Mississippi River to the coastal estuaries. For the 2022-2024 omnibus cycle, LSG will fund three core research projects and three integrated research teams. Below is a synopsis of the projects, along with a list of the investigators and their affiliations.

Core Research

Seed to Seagrass: Planting and Seeding Re-Enforce Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Habitat Resiliency in the Pontchartrain Estuary
Principal Investigator (PI): Eva Hillmann, Southeastern Louisiana University, Department of Biology

Coastal submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) ecosystems provide significant benefits that support many high-value fish and wildlife species, improve water quality and provide shoreline stabilization, all while efficiently sequestering carbon in soils. However, SAVs are vulnerable to climate change, sea level rise and coastal development. The project’s objectives are to: 1) Jumpstart SAV and seagrass restoration and resiliency across the Pontchartrain estuary by demonstrating possible restoration outcomes in three areas across the estuary (Chandeleur Islands, nearshore Lake Pontchartrain and ponds at the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge); 2) Identify the most efficient SAV and seagrass restoration seeding techniques; 3) Raise awareness of this critical habitat through public signage and professional development opportunities for educators. Hillmann sees promising new SAV and seagrass seeding techniques as a possible catalyst for scaling up SAV restoration across the Pontchartrain estuary.

Bacterial Predation: A Solution of Vibrio Control for Oyster Hatcheries?
PI: Aixin Hou, Louisiana State University (LSU), Department of Environmental Sciences

Antibiotics have historically been used to reduce pathogen levels – such as the bacteria Vibrio – in oyster hatcheries. This use has likely contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant microbial species in coastal estuaries. Additionally, infected oyster larvae usually don’t show symptoms until pathogens have colonized inside their bodies, making it often too late to treat the infected larvae. Consequently, ecologically friendly, preventive measures are desired to control pathogenic bacteria in oyster hatcheries. This project will build upon previously funded work that demonstrated that Bdellovibrio (BLAO) and other similar bacteria occurring naturally in the Gulf of Mexico have the potential to control Vibro spp. Researchers will examine the predatory effect of BALO strains on more Vibrio strains, which could lead to the development of commercially available microbial inoculants to control vibriosis in oyster hatcheries.

Evaluating Ecological Functions of Created Marshes in Louisiana to Inform Decisions about Elevations and Confinement
PI: Tracy Quirk, LSU, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Studies
Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI): John Nyman, LSU AgCenter

Millions of dollars are being spent on marsh creation projects to mitigate some of the state’s wetland loss. Most of these marshes are constructed at high elevations within a containment berm designed to restrict the dispersion of dredged material. Quirk and her team are interested in learning if unconfined and/or lower-elevation created marshes are more productive and have a more rapid rate of organic matter and sediment accumulation compared to confined and/or higher-elevation marshes. This project will be conducted on Bayou Bonfouca in the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, and its results could provide better insights into which marsh creation approach is more resilient to sea level rise.

Integrated Research and Engagement

Documenting Food Practices and Networks in Coastal Louisiana: Understanding the Role of Subsistence Harvesting in Reducing Food Insecurity and Strengthening Community Resilience
PI: Traci Birch, LSU, Department of Architecture
Co-PI: Carl Motsenbocker, LSU AgCenter
Co-PI: Jonathan Foret, South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center
Co-PI: Aimee Moles, LSU, Social Science Research Center

Louisiana experiences some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country, and the numbers are increasing faster than other locations in the United States. Birch and her team will investigate local food networks in five parishes to better understand the role of subsistence harvesting – fish, wildlife as well as crops harvested for subsistence use – in order to support better local food security and resiliency planning. The researchers hope project results can: 1) Improve access to subsistence foods, prioritize subsistence uses and preserve community knowledge; 2) Provide guidance to policy makers to support local food systems, subsistence practices and community resilience; 3) Engage local high school students as researchers and active participants in the research process.

Identifying Value-Added Markets for Louisiana’s Wild and Farm Alligator Industry
PI: James Fannin, LSU AgCenter, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness
Co-PI: Casey Stannard, LSU, Department of Textiles, Apparel Design and Merchandising
Co-PI: Jerrod Penn, LSU AgCenter, Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness

The purchase of wild alligator hunting licenses has decreased in the last decade and prices for wild alligator skins have declined by 50 to 70 percent. There is anecdotal evidence that domestic tanners are not purchasing wild skins from Louisiana due to having excess inventory. A multi-year slump in the alligator skin trade would have long-term ramifications for the industry. This project will evaluate the flourishing craft industry as another potential domestic market for wild alligator skins and develop technology-based strategies – such as digital cutting layouts – to reduce waste, increase value and ultimately sustain jobs in the alligator industry.

Economic, Social and Policy Pathways to Freeboard Adoption for Existing Homes
PI: Monica Farris, University of New Orleans (UNO), Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART)
Co-PI: Pamela Jenkins, UNO, CHART
Co-PI: Carol Friedland, LSU, Bert. S. Turner Department of Construction Management
Co-PI: Yongcheol Lee, LSU, Bert. S. Turner Department of Construction Management
Co-PI: Robert Rohli, LSU, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Previous research revealed that freeboard – the number of feet a structure is above a site’s base flood elevation – in new home construction results in significant homeowner savings by circumventing losses due to floods and reduced homeowner flood insurance premiums. However, obstacles were discovered that prevented communities from implementing higher freeboard standards, particularly for existing homes. The goal of this project is to evaluate the social, economic and policy pathways toward freeboard implementation in order to reduce flood risk and enhance community resilience for existing homes in the state’s 20 coastal parishes.

These projects are scheduled to begin Feb. 1, 2022, subject to the availability of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funding support.