State of the Beach/State Reports/LA/Beach Ecology

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Louisiana Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access12
Water Quality74
Beach Erosion7-
Erosion Response-2
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures6 3
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas24
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


To the casual observer, beaches may simply appear as barren stretches of sand - beautiful, but largely devoid of life or ecological processes. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Sandy beaches not only provide habitat for numerous species of plants and animals, they also serve as breeding grounds for many species that are not residential to the beach. Additionally, beaches function as areas of high primary production. Seaweeds and other kinds of algae flourish in shallow, coastal waters, and beaches serve as repositories for these important inputs to the food chain. In this way, beaches support a rich web of life including worms, bivalves, and crustaceans. This community of species attracts predators such as seabirds, which depend on sandy beaches for their foraging activities. In short, sandy beaches are diverse and productive systems that serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.

Erosion of the beach, whether it is “natural” erosion or erosion exacerbated by interruptions to historical sand supply, can negatively impact beach ecology by removing habitat. Other threats to ecological systems at the beach include beach grooming and other beach maintenance activities. Even our attempts at beach restoration may disrupt the ecological health of the beach. Imported sand may smother natural habitat. The grain size and color of imported sand may influence the reproductive habits of species that utilize sandy beaches for these functions.

In the interest of promoting better monitoring of sandy beach systems, the Surfrider Foundation would like to see the implementation of a standardized methodology for assessing ecological health. We believe that in combination, the identified metrics such as those described below can function to provide a revealing picture of the status of beach systems. We believe that a standardized and systematic procedure for assessing ecological health is essential to meeting the goals of ecosystem-based management. And, we believe that the adoption of such a procedure will function to better inform decision makers, and help bridge the gap that continues to exist between science and policy. The Surfrider Foundation proposes that four different metrics be used to complete ecological health assessments of sandy beaches. These metrics include

  1. quality of habitat,
  2. status of ‘indicator’ species,
  3. maintenance of species richness, and
  4. management practices.

It is envisioned that beach systems would receive a grade (i.e., A through F), which describes the beach’s performance against each of these metrics. In instances where information is unavailable, beaches would be assigned an incomplete for that metric. Based on the beach’s overall performance against the four metrics, an “ecological health” score would be identified.


According to the Louisiana Coastal Management Program Assessment and Strategy 2011-2015, the state is currently developing a beach and dune habitat restoration plan. The report also identified marine debris as having a detrimental effect on beach ecology.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Office of Coastal Restoration and Management, Coastal Management Division (LDNR/OCRM/CMD) is the lead agency for the State of Louisiana’s coastal management program, and as such is developing the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) Plan as outlined in the CELCP Program Guidelines issued by NOAA in 2003. The Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP) seeks to acquire land through the CELCP in order to aid in efforts to protect and conserve habitats that provide environmental, historical, aesthetic, and recreational benefits for the public of today and for future generations. Wetlands, Shorelines, and Adjacent Uplands (undeveloped, natural habitat) will be the Louisiana’s CELCP priority areas for projects. Important ecological aspects of these priority areas are from biotic production, corridors/connectivity and/or core conservation areas, migrating bird habitat, and landscape processes and functions. The conservation of these priority areas will rely on feasibility of success (property availability), long-term ease of management, and storm impact attenuation. The priority areas also provide many chances for recreation for anyone willing to enjoy nature.

Louisiana also has Gulf Ecological Management Sites (GEMS) and Natural Heritage Sites, which are protected areas that include sandy beaches.[1]

Bulldozing: Louisiana monitors and regulates beach bulldozing practices. The DNR Office of Coastal Management regulates the beach bulldozing practices and performs Field Compliance monitoring and assessment.[1]

In April 2011 the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill announced that BP had agreed to provide $1 billion toward early restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico to address impacts to natural resources caused by the spill. The funds will be used to support projects such as the rebuilding of coastal marshes, replenishment of damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive ocean and coastal habitat, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural storms protection. Each Gulf state - Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas - will select and implement $100 million in projects; the Federal Resource Trustees, NOAA and Department of the Interior (DOI), will each select and implement $100 million in projects; and the remaining $300 million will be used for projects selected by NOAA and DOI from proposals submitted by the State Trustees.

In October 2014 the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees (Trustees) selected and approved the largest suite of Gulf of Mexico early restoration projects since the oil spill. The restoration plan includes 44 projects totaling an estimated $627 million, including $340 million for projects in Louisiana. The Trustees’ issuance of the Record of Decision (ROD) and finalization of associated project agreements will allow these projects to move toward implementation. These projects are funded by the $1 billion that BP agreed to invest for early restoration of damaged natural resources resulting from the Spill. As announced in March 2013, the Louisiana projects include:

  • Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration ($318 million) - This project aims to restore beach, dune, and back-barrier marsh habitats at four barrier island locations in Louisiana. From west to east, the four locations are Caillou Lake Headlands (also known as Whiskey Island), Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island (West Lobe and portions of East Lobe), and North Breton Island.
  • Louisiana Marine Fisheries Enhancement, Research, and Science Center ($22 million) – This project would establish state of the art facilities to responsibly develop aquaculture-based techniques for marine fishery management. The proposed project would include two sites (Calcasieu Parish and Plaquemines Parish) with the shared goals of fostering collaborative multi-dimensional research on marine sport fish and bait fish species; enhancing stakeholder involvement; and providing fisheries extension, outreach, and education to the public.

To date, early restoration funds allocated to Louisiana projects total approximately $698 million.

In November 2014 the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority awarded a $145.7 million contract to Weeks Marine for the construction of the second increment of the Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration project in Lafourche Parish. This project represents both the largest construction contract awarded and the largest restoration project undertaken in the history of the coastal program. This portion of the Caminada Headland project will complement construction that is currently underway on the headland and scheduled for completion in 2014. The second increment will create approximately 489 acres of beach and dune habitat and restore approximately seven additional miles of beach. In total, the first and second increments will restore a combined 13 miles of beach and 792 acres of beach and dune habitat.

The Caminada Headland restoration also represents the first time in Louisiana that sand has been dredged from an offshore shoal in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico to restore habitat on a barrier shoreline. Over 8 million cubic yards of sand is being dredged and transported from Ship Shoal, an offshore borrow site 27 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. Restoration of the Caminada Headland adds to an impressive amount of work completed along the protective perimeter of the Barataria Basin since 2007. Other barrier island and headland restoration projects in the area include Pass Chaland, East Grand Terre, Pelican Island, Shell Island East, and Scofield Island. These projects represent a combined investment of approximately $223 million. Restoration work included the placement of over 12 million cubic yards of sediment, benefitting 2,550 acres of dune and marsh and protecting nearly 12 miles of shoreline. Additional work in Barataria Basin is anticipated to begin as early as spring of 2015 on Shell Island West and Chenier Ronquille as part of Deepwater Horizon early restoration.


Louisiana uses beach water quality data as an indicator of beach ecological health. This monitoring is performed at some coastal locations by the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Environmental Quality.[1]

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance is a partnership of the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, with the goal of significantly increasing regional collaboration to enhance the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The five U.S. Gulf States have identified six priority issues that are regionally significant and can be effectively addressed through increased collaboration at local, state, and federal levels:

  • Water Quality;
  • Habitat Conservation and Restoration;
  • Ecosystem Integration and Assessment;
  • Nutrients & Nutrient Impacts;
  • Coastal Community Resilience; and
  • Environmental Education

Other Coastal Ecosystems

A Gulf Ecological Management Site (GEMS) is a geographic area that has special ecological significance to the continued production of fish, wildlife, and other natural resources or that represents unique habitats. The GEMS Program is an initiative of the Gulf of Mexico Program (GMP) and the five Gulf of Mexico states that provides a regional framework for ecologically important Gulf habitats. The GEMS Program will coordinate and utilize existing federal, state, local, and private programs, resources, and mechanisms to identify GEMS in each state, build an informational database, and foster cooperative use of GEMS to further GMP goals.

In the largest public awareness initiative in its history, Louisiana is leading America's Wetland: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana. The campaign is raising awareness of the impact of Louisiana's wetland loss and working to increase support for efforts to conserve and save coastal Louisiana.

Over 25 years ago (April 1987), the U.S. EPA and the Louisiana Geological Society prepared the report Saving Louisiana's Coastal Wetlands, The Need for a Long-Term Plan of Action. That report concluded:

  1. Wetland loss in Louisiana is a problem with national importance. The coastal wetlands of Louisiana support a major fraction of the U.S. fishing, hunting, and trapping industries, and indirectly, the poultry industry. Unlike wetland loss elsewhere which mostly results from private actions, the coastal wetland loss in Louisiana results primarily from activities conducted or authorized by government agencies.
  2. Although natural processes are involved, human activities are responsible for the net loss of wetlands. These activities include levees, channelization, canals, draining and filling of land, and human modification of drainage patterns.
  3. Wetland loss could be reduced by combinations of marsh restoration and management; Mississippi river diversion of freshwater, nutrients, and sediment; barrier island and beach stabilization; and modification of human activities.
  4. A comprehensive plan of action is needed. Such a plan should have a reasonable chance of protecting a large fraction of Louisiana's wetlands through the next century. This document has outlined twenty options to be evaluated in the formation of such a plan.
  5. A number of institutional impediments must be overcome before a consensus can be obtained on the design and implementation of a plan of action.
  6. No single approach will adequately curtail wetland loss in Louisiana.
  7. Initial formulation of an action plan should not await completion of additional scientific studies. Nevertheless, development of the plan will define additional research needs.
  8. Ongoing and approved remedial measures should go forward on schedule. The need for a comprehensive plan of action does not imply that previously approved projects should be delayed.
  9. If projections that the greenhouse effect will raise sea level one foot or more in the next fifty years are accurate, the need for immediate action is much greater than previously thought. The global warming has not so far been an important factor in causing wetland loss in Louisiana. However, long-term plans should consider the rise in sea level that could occur in the next fifty to one hundred years. The possibility that sea level may eventually rise one or more meters is not a reason to give up on efforts to protect coastal wetlands. It is another reason to implement measures to restore the delta's former ability to keep pace with subsidence and sea level rise through sedimentation and other processes.

A unique feature of the Louisiana coast is the presence of coastal wetland forests. A Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use Science Working Group was formed to: "provide information and guidelines for the long-term utilization, conservation, and protection of Louisiana’s coastal wetland forest ecosystem, from both environmental and economic perspectives." The Science Working Group's final report (2005) provided 14 recommendations, including the following statement of mission and intent regarding coastal wetland forest ecosystem policy: The State of Louisiana will place priority on conserving, restoring, and managing coastal wetland forests, including collaborative efforts among public and private entities, to ensure that their functions and ecosystem services will be available to present and future citizens of Louisiana and the United States.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has adopted the following policy:

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports efforts to reduce land loss in the Louisiana coastal wetlands through protection and restoration of the physical processes necessary to sustain these unique ecosystems. ASCE supports the ongoing effort to fund and implement the comprehensive Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Program, as appropriately modified by lessons learned from the 2005 hurricanes. Key components of the LCA Program should include the beneficial use of dredged material, regional sediment management, and a programmatic authorization of Federal Civil Works that allow work to continue on a long-term basis.
ASCE endorses the principle that coastal and wetland restoration and hurricane protection must be part of an integrated regional watershed and coastal zone management effort, which considers the interrelationships of natural, social and economic systems and includes Federal, State, local and private initiatives in a collaborative way.

The Louisiana Christmas Tree Program originated from a similar erosion-control technique used in the Netherlands. A Christmas tree fence is constructed in a shallow open-water area. Then the trees are placed into the pen. It provides an effective wave break that can reduce marsh-edge erosion and enhance water clarity, thus allowing more aquatic vegetation to become established. It also provides important reef areas for many fish and crustacean species.

Another item being recycled to improve coastal ecology is oyster shells. Recycling of oyster shells from restaurants or other users back into coastal waters can serve as a foundation for reefs and as cultch for more oysters. Oyster shells can also help buffer ocean acidification.

In April 2011, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced that it had awarded more than $25 million in Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) funding to the state of Louisiana. The funding is for the Orleans Land Bridge Shoreline Protection project, which will result in the construction of a protective land bridge to safeguard against erosion and preserve marsh along the Lake Borgne shoreline, on the eastern edge of New Orleans. This award represents one of the largest single CIAP grants to be awarded since the start of the program. For more information about CIAP and the Orleans Land Bridge Shoreline Protection project, see the full BOEMRE press release here.

NOAA's Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps provide a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Examples of at-risk resources include biological resources (such as birds and shellfish beds), sensitive shorelines (such as marshes and tidal flats), and human-use resources (such as public beaches and parks).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Services Center, in partnership with NatureServe and others are developing the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS), a standard ecological classification system that is universally applicable for coastal and marine systems and complementary to existing wetland and upland systems.

Contact Info

Sue Lambert
Coastal Resources Program Supervisor
Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration

Kieth Lovell
Administrator-Interagency Affairs, Compliance, & Field Services
Office of Coastal Management
Louisiana Department of Natural Resources

Bill Good
Coastal Restoration Division
Louisiana Department of Natural Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 2011 coastal zone manager beach ecology surfrider survey

State of the Beach Report: Louisiana
Louisiana Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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