Atchafalaya Basin Nominated for Consideration in NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Published June 15, 2022

Atchafalaya Basin Nominated for Consideration in NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve

On June 15, 2022, the Louisiana Office of the Governor announced that Governor John Bel Edwards had officially selected the Atchafalaya Coastal Basin as the preferred site in Louisiana to be added to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) System. He also charged the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) with acting as the state’s lead agency and working with Louisiana State University to complete the remaining steps to formally designate the Atchafalaya Coastal Basin as Louisiana’s NERR.

NOAA’s NERR sites serve as living laboratories for studying estuaries and the natural and human changes that occur in them. They host monitoring, training, and educational activities that connect people to science while also assisting in the development of long-term relationships between local communities, state and federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Louisiana is the only marine coastal state in the country that does not have a National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Coastal Basin is going to be an outstanding addition to NOAA’s NERR System,” said Gov. Edwards. “From an environmental and scientific point of view, the Atchafalaya River Basin is the nation’s largest freshwater swamp, and where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, there are two active, land-building river deltas and an extremely vibrant estuary. And, as everyone in Louisiana knows, the Atchafalaya Basin is home to a unique and cherished culture and history.”

In July of 2019, Louisiana Governor Edwards initiated the process of establishing a NERR in coastal Louisiana by writing to NOAA. LSU and Louisiana Sea Grant assisted the state in evaluating three potential sites in the Atchafalaya, Barataria, and Pontchartrain Basins over a 24-month period, involving over 70 volunteers from state and federal agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations on four committees. In addition, nine public town hall meetings were held to engage stakeholders, and letters of support from a diverse range of public and private interests were collected.

Before recommending the Atchafalaya Basin to the Governor, the executive committee, comprised of members from CPRA, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s Office, and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, evaluated the proposals, heard presentations from each basin’s team, and reviewed the screening committee’s scoring.

“The Atchafalaya Coastal Basin is thrilled to be the state’s selection for a site in NOAA’s NERR system,” said Senator Bret Allain. “This region is more than ready and more than capable of exceling in every one of NOAA’s focus areas of stewardship, research, training, and education, and the enthusiasm for this designation from the public in our region has been outstanding.”

Following the Governor’s selection of the Atchafalaya, a nomination packet containing more information about the state’s site selection process and other materials will be sent to NOAA by July 1. If NOAA approves the selection and accepts Louisiana into the NERR System, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Management Plan will be drafted, followed by the signing of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between NOAA and the State, the completion of a final EIS and Management Plan, a Record of Decision, and finally a designation ceremony.

“The addition of Atchafalaya Basin to the NERR System provides Louisiana the opportunity to tell our story at the national level of the unique and spectacular environment and culture that a delta estuary represents compared to other estuaries in the nation and around the world,” said Dr. Twilley, chair of the Louisiana designation team. “This is a tribute to efforts of so many coastal champions over the past several years to finally see this NERR nomination accomplished under the leadership of Governor Edwards.”