Yes, really, but these are not your typical islands. These are man made and hopefully not the kind humans will ever be deserted on. They serve a much greater purpose, and the concept just blew me away.
As part of National Estuaries Day, this “floating island” restoration project was undertaken, involving NGO’s, corporations, government agencies, schools, and volunteers down at a place called “Island Road”.
Floating Islands March Creation on Island Road
Early Saturday morning, I hopped in the truck and headed east on back bayou roads to Bayou Point Aux Chenes (point of the oaks) and on down to my final destination of Isle de Jean Charles. It’s only about 25 miles east of my home as the eagle flies, but driving took me an hour!
This was the third and final day of a shoreline restoration using “Biohaven floating islands“. Martin Ecosystems of Baton Rouge, licensed in Louisiana to make this product, oversaw the volunteer work and installed the islands we created . They are a very impressive family-owned and family-run business.
Planting the Floating Island Mats
This particular morning, I had the privilege of working alongside students from South Lafourche High School, Terrebonne Parish 4-H Leadership, Vandebilt High, as well as adults from the Terrebonne Parish Coastal Zone Management Board and other volunteers.
The first two rows were planted with seashore paspalum, a shorter salt-tolerant plant.
The remaining perimeter and middle were planted with taller plants called smooth cordgrass. Each plant was poked down into a hole, then packed tightly with the peat moss, and lastly the rest of the peat moss was spread all over the mat.This was a snap for these kids! The first mat was finished and on its way to the transport trailer in under ten minutes.
As is typical for south Louisiana, volunteers were cooking under another tent. This was the beginnings of pork, chicken, sausage jambalaya! We could smell it cooking while we worked! What an incentive!
Installing the Floating Island Mats
Next the island mats were unloaded at a designated spot, and several men lowered each mat into the water where two of the Martin sons were waiting to string them together. The completed mats weighed about 80 pounds.
For those of you who love the finer engineering details, here they are. Each mat has two PVC pipes running through it longways, large enough to accept 5/16 stainless steel cable.
Some of the mats are equipped with an “end” piece of larger PVC that is plugged and crimped with stainless sleeves, holding the cable in place. Then the cable is pushed through by hand and inserted through the smaller PVC in each successive mat.
Once the desired number of mats were strung together, the “ends” were made up with a loop in the cable and another set of sleeves and then pulled taught with a batter-powered winch. Chad Martin can be seen in the distance pushing the mats into line with his boat so all the slack can be pulled out. In the foreground were Edwin, Jason Martin, and a fellow whose name I have forgotten.
These anchors are attached to the ends of the island chain and on the sides every 30 feet using more of the stainless steel cable. The pipe you see above is then pushed down to the desired depth using a hydraulic powered pile driver. In this application, clay was discovered about ten feet down, so the anchors were secured another six feet down into the clay. The pipe is removed, the anchor does its job, and voila! You have a created a new floating island or shoreline.
In the above photo, you can see a group of the islands connected side-by-side. The islands can be connected in strands of desired length, side-by-side, or terraced. The Martins were way too busy doing their job for me to jump in the boat and get photos from the water, but I hope these give you some idea of what the island looks like on the water.
Time for Lunch
Let me add that these kids started around 9:30 and by 11:00, it was time to break and eat some delicious jambalaya and fried fish. Another reason they had to stop was because they had planted all the smooth cordgrass that was available, and someone had to go get more plants. After lunch, these kids planted another couple dozen or so mats in less than 30 minutes. It was pretty amazing!
Now, let me explain a little more how these islands work as a restoration method. They are placed in shallow water in front of an eroding shoreline (although there are also deep water applications for this product). The plants’ root systems extend through the holes, downward into the sediment, further anchoring the island in place.
While the plants continue to grow, water movement deposits sediments on and behind the islands over time. After about a year, the islands and the shoreline have fused as one so seamlessly that it is impossible to tell the island from the natural shoreline, unless you dig down with your hand and touch the plastic mat.
If you would like to see this method in established applications, then South Lafourche Parish Levee District floating island applications can be seen here. Note that one of the photos shows the island all grown over. Bayou Sauvage floating island photos can be seen here.
In my opinion, this is a great restoration method for smaller applications; however, lots of these island strings could be placed across a long shoreline, thus forming a bigger restoration project! This will offer greater opportunity for landowners to quickly restore lost shoreline.
My brain could really go to town with ideas for these floating islands; for example, how about paying for a block of these and then having the island named after you? That would just be the coolest thing ever!
Now, BW just has to figure out how to get some of these islands put to use on the eroding shorelines down her bayou! So, stay tuned to see how that goes!
Floating on an island of possibility,