Gov. John Bel Edwards 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 tasked the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to serve as the state’s lead agency, working with continued support from Louisiana State University, for engaging with NOAA 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 the study of estuaries and the natural and human changes that they experience. They host monitoring, training, and educational activities that connect people to science while helping to build long-term relationships among local communities, state and federal agencies, and other nongovernmental entities. Louisiana is currently the only marine coastal state in the country without 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.”
Gov. Edwards began the process of establishing a NERR in coastal Louisiana with a letter to NOAA in July of 2019. Over twenty-four months, LSU and Louisiana Sea Grant assisted the state in evaluating three potential sites in the Atchafalaya, Barataria, and Pontchartrain Basins, engaging over 70 volunteers across 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 were collected from a cross-section of public and private interests.
This summer, the executive committee, with 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 scoring from a screening committee before recommending the Atchafalaya Basin to the Governor.
“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.”
With the Governor’s selection of the Atchafalaya, a nomination packet will next be sent to NOAA containing more detail about the state’s site selection process and other materials by July 1. If NOAA approves of the selection and adopts Louisiana into the NERR System, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Management Plan will be drafted, followed by the executing of 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.”