NOAA-Supported Shell Reef Fortifies Tribal Way of Life

The Takeaway: The Pointe-au-Chien people pushed back against floods and erosion by installing 200 tons of recycled oyster shells along a 400-foot shoreline.

For centuries along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, Pointe-au-Chien tribal members cultivated livestock, family fisheries, and lands rich in fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Now waterlogged properties and a vanishing shoreline are jeopardizing the community’s culture and economy. Striving to save their way of life, remaining community members and volunteers built a 400-foot reef of recycled oyster shells to protect against erosion and rising waters. The multi-partner project was made possible by a Regional Coastal Resilience Grant provided by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and administered by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance.

The Office for Coastal Management also conducted the project’s environmental assessment. A $45,000 resilience grant was provided to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, which collected roughly 200 tons of recycled oyster shells from 19 South Louisiana eateries to line the shore.

As oyster larvae and other types of marine life attach to shells, the reef will grow in both height and protective strength, slowing down and weakening wave energy that would otherwise damage wetlands and homes. Water quality also will rise, supporting fish stocks. Just one oyster can filter up to 75 gallons of water daily, according to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.

Finally, the shells will help protect sacred tribal mounds that go back to 900 B.C.E.

Several factors contribute to the community’s increased vulnerability to storms and flooding. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Louisiana loses a football field’s worth of land every 100 minutes. Natural subsidence, rising seas, and hurricanes explain some land loss. Other factors include manmade levees and canals that damage wetland integrity, and 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which soaked plants with petroleum, causing coastal soils to break apart more easily.

A Regional Coastal Resilience Grant of $892,700, administered by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, is addressing resilience gaps in this community and nine others. (2019)

Partners: Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico Alliance, NOAA Office for Coastal Management