Grand Isle Volunteers: Restoring Some Hope at A Gulf Oil Disaster’s “Ground Zero”

On Saturday, June 25th, hope itself visited Grand Isle, Louisiana in the form of a dedicated corps of volunteers.

Their job: to take on the seemingly impossible task of restoring some of the marshes and beaches that became so damaged by the BP oil disaster of 2010.   Over the course of the day, a group of 50 volunteers planted 1,600 black mangroves along the marshy shoreline of Grand Isle State Park and another 500 plugs of bitter panicum, a native grass, along beach areas.

The park, edging on Barataria Bay, was one of many places considered “ground zero” when the toxic BP oil came ashore. Moreover, the community of Grand Isle had double trouble when Hurricane Katrina surged over the island smashing many or its homes, businesses and camp areas.  More of Louisiana’s valuable wetlands were lost to the storm then in any other recorded time.  Undaunted, the community’s leaders are moving forward and even smaller efforts such as wetland and beach restorations are making a difference.

To bring out volunteers for several such restoration efforts, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) formed a partnership to directly engage people in improving oil-impacted mangrove habitats across areas of coastal Louisiana.  The partnership’s main goal is to engage volunteers in restoring three areas that were heavily impacted by the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

The group gathered at the park early Saturday and, after being briefed on how to effectively plant the mangroves and panicum, they were deployed in smaller groups spread along the shoreline.  The volunteers worked hard most of the day, in the June heat, laying in new vegetation along critical places that the oil had harmed. Others worked on plantings that would stabilize and rebuild marshes and beach areas suffering from erosion.   It is the kind of work that is physically challenging but highly rewarding.  Importantly, the volunteers formed a common sense of purpose and took great joy in seeing their progress and results.

These wonderful folks remind all of us to recognize that the Gulf oil disaster is far from over and it will take many years to repair the damage, if it ever can be repaired.   But they also remind us of the deep human need to have hope for a better future for the people, wildlife and nature of Grand Isle and for all of us.

Volunteers in Action: Find out about other volunteer efforts to restore damaged wetlands on the Gulf Coast.