TROY professors helping to protect native land in Louisiana with living shorelines, GRP grant

Published 8:19 am Thursday, January 18, 2024

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By Savanah Weed

Troy University professors Dr. Chris Boyd and Dr. Xutong Niu have been selected to be part of a Louisiana-based team that is striving to help the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) protect their land from climate-related hazards.

Made possible thanks to a $780,308 grant awarded by the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Boyd and Niu are two members of a 12-person team composed of researchers from Louisiana, Washington, Arizona and Mississippi.

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While officially named in this second phase of the project, Boyd served as a subject matter expert in Phase 1 last year after being contacted by Project Director Dr. Matthew Bethel, associate executive director of research at Louisiana Sea Grant at Louisiana State University.

Boyd’s field of study is environmental science and living shorelines while Niu specializes in geospatial informatics.

“They saw value in the Living Shoreline Suitability Model that I’d been funded for in Pensacola, in Perdido Bayand in Mobile Bay, and we’d run the model before near New Orleans in Lake Pontchartrain,” Boyd said. “It’s an effective tool that helps in long-term coastal resiliency planning.”

In Phase 2, the pair will be working as part of the living shoreline development team along with Dr. Wei Wu, University of Southern Mississippi. Additionally, they’ll also work with the tribe on adapting the model according to the area’s needs and picking the best sites for the Phase 3 implementation project, and Niu will create an online viewer and website similar to what they’d provided Santa Rosa and Escambia County in Florida.

“Our job is to identify the most appropriate type of living shorelines to install while using the model to assist in determining the most appropriate locations to protect their community from storms, climate change and flooding,” Boyd said. “This tool will help them better determine where more projects could be installed, potentially by the Phase 3 implementation grant and future funding down the road.”

The traditional lands of the PACIT include diverse ecological and cultural resources, such as birds, plants, animals, fish, cemeteries and sacred sites, and tribal members were historically fishers, hunters and farmers. While some members continue to make a livelihood fishing, environmental factors like erosion, storm surges and frequent flooding threaten their way of life.

After Hurricane Ida in August 2021, the tribe developed a community-based strategy plan to prepare for future storms called the Pointe-au-Chien “Resilient Rebuilding Plan.” Project coordinators believe a coordinated network of living shorelines is a key strategy for protecting the community from future storm impacts and flooding that honors the tribe’s cultural heritage and priorities.

“Traditionally, the focus of living shorelines is to focus on controlling erosion in a natural way. We have to protect our natural spaces—we’re losing our wetlands,” Boyd said. “The tribe respects the oyster shell reef breakwater living shoreline design because not only does it work to control erosion while protecting cultural resources, but they are also a community of fishermen so having the living oyster reef is considered very important. Oysters will help improve their water quality and, in the future, will make for even better fishing.”

The grant is one of four recently issued by the GRP in support of projects that engage communities to design nature-based solutions to mitigate climate-related hazards.