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Barrier island restoration in the Gulf of Mexico

Chris Calkins,

Barrier islands are the first line of defense during storms that threaten coastal communities. They reduce the harmful effects of wind and waves and serve as habitats for important wildlife.

Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, extreme changes such as significant erosion occurred at barrier islands off the central Gulf of Mexico coast, including the Breton National Wildlife Refuge (BNWR) barrier island chain located in the Breton Sound 30 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana. As a result of these storms and the subsequent erosion, habitat acreage on the islands was significantly reduced.

Today, important work is underway to restore these barrier islands that serve as natural breakwaters protecting mainland environments. More than 450 acres of habitat will be created at North Breton Island, one of four BNWR projects to begin construction after receiving early restoration money as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) process.

The $75 million project involves the restoration of beach, dune, and back barrier marsh habitats to support breeding birds like brown pelicans, terns, skimmers, and gulls. The new habitats will be created by pumping approximately 5.5 million cubic yards of sediment from a borrow area in the Gulf located approximately four miles from the Island. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead agency on the project, while working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and an interagency team comprised of the Department of the Interior (DOI), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office (LOSCO), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency (CPRA).

The North Breton Island barrier island restoration project is the first of its kind for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How is OBG supporting the restoration effort?

OBG has led major restoration projects in riverine and estuarine environments for more than 25 years. Since the Deepwater Horizon incident, OBG has worked to restore the Gulf coastline—from developing booming strategies for shoreline protection and wildlife reconnaissance and recovery efforts with the USFWS, to managing the Natural Resource Advisor (NRA) program, an effort that has minimized inadvertent impacts to natural and cultural resources across states impacted by the spill. Additionally, for a global oil & gas client, OBG has served as a program management consultant for Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). In this role, OBG developed project management tools, work processes, a structure to enable the management of various resource study areas, and a work flow to facilitate contracting of more than 300 activities by dozens of contractors and consultants.

At North Breton Island, OBG leads investigation, modeling, and design services to facilitate restoration. The company’s team of scientific and engineering experts is currently working to collect and analyze topographic, bathymetric, sub-bottom, and magnetometer data of the island, as well as the area where sand will be borrowed from, and will design the rebuild of the island.

The project is unique considering the need for complex engineering, design, and investigation and significant interagency coordination and collaboration. OBG is responsible for overall project management and the project design and construction team, which is made up of Coastal Engineering Consultants, Thompson Engineering, ECM Consultants, R.C. Goodwin & Associates, and Lindbergh & Associates.

“There’s a lot of important work going on in the barrier islands of Louisiana that many people aren’t aware of,” says Gary Emmanuel, a manager within OBG’s environment business. “By helping to restore islands like North Breton Island, we’re also helping to enhance ecosystem resilience to environmental change along the coast, while preserving needed nesting areas for birds.”

Learn more in our project case study.

About Chris Calkins:
Chris Calkins is a vice president at OBG and leader within the company’s environmental business. Chris has nearly 30 years of experience focused on the direction and execution of complex and diverse remediation, coastal resiliency, and restoration projects. Chris currently leads OBG’s strategic partnership in the remediation and restoration of Onondaga Lake in Central New York.

Chris Calkins
(315) 956-6548