Volunteers plant floating plastic islands

Hundreds of volunteers helped launch 187 “floating islands” in a demonstration project of new technology to protect the area south of Houma, Louisiana, that is considered to be “ground zero” for coastal land loss in America.

The islands offer promise, not only to protect existing land against eroding wave action, but also as a means of building new land in shallow open waters in an area that has suffered some of the nation’s greatest loss of land.

Martin Ecosystems of Baton Rouge, the company that is installing the islands with the help of volunteers from Entergy, Shell, CCA, Brown and Caldwell, local 4-H club members, Bayou Faith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), Bayou Grace Community Services, Pointe Aux Chene Elementary, Montegut Middle School, Future Leaders of America’s Gulf (FLAG), Sassafras Louisiana and the local Native American tribes, will monitor the effectiveness of the islands over the next year.

The 5’ x 8’ islands were planted with 40 to 60 native plants by volunteers, then anchored end-to-end for 1,500 ft. next to remaining marshes on the thin strip of road that leads to Isle de Jean Charles, south of Houma. The plants will set roots into the water bottoms, forming traps for land-building sediments. Several islands will be stacked away from shore to test their ability to build land in open water.

The floating islands create a man made ecosystem that mimics naturally occurring wetlands. They are made of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles which have been found to be safe for marine life, Coast Guard approved marine foam for buoyancy and held in place on a PVC pipe frame.

“This is the first site where we will have islands off by themselves,” Nicole Martin Waguespack, spokesperson for Martin Ecosystems said. “In our previous installation, along the banks of Bayou Sauvage, we are already seeing plants jump off the island and set roots after three months. This is going to be a good test for the effectiveness of the floating islands to generate new vegetation and new land.”