ISLAND PARADISE

The Recently Completed Restoration Project at Elmer’s Island Refuge Has It Looking As Good As Ever

story by TRey Iles, LDWF Public Information

Elmer’s Island Refuge was a place of beauty even before a massive makeover that added beach acreage. The island, located about 50 miles south of New Orleans at the southwestern end of Jefferson Parish, is part of what makes Louisiana’s coast so special.

It’s a natural barrier island that houses an array of plants, animals and fish.

“There are no buildings, no construction at all’’ said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biologist Julia Lightner. “It’s a natural habitat and, unlike most barrier islands in Louisiana, is accessible. The habitat, the fishing and birding, the variety of critters and plants make it a unique place.’’

And thanks to a recently completed restoration project, there is more of Elmer’s Island to love.

In 2012, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, or CPRA, began a major refurbishment effort on the western end of the Caminada Headlands and restored approximately 300 acres and six miles of beach and dune habitat. The eastern half of the project, which included Elmer’s Island, started in 2013 and restored about 500 acres and seven miles of beach and dunes.

LDWF, which manages Elmer’s Island, and CPRA announced the completion of the project, an investment of $200 million, in October of 2016. Funding sources included state surplus, Coastal Impact Assistance Program funds and funds coming from the settlement of federal criminal charges against BP and Transocean through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“This is the largest single coastal and habitat restoration project in CPRA history,” said CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry at the time of the project’s completion. “CPRA’s work to restore coastal beaches, dunes and habitats along barrier islands is vital to achieve a productive and resilient working coast, and a robust barricade to attenuate storm surge and flooding.”

Part of the restoration work included the addition of beach that now extends out to about 250-300 feet from where it was previously. The elevation was increased by about six feet and dune fences were put in place to protect the new land.

The added acreage is important to the restoration of this habitat for nesting birds and provides hurricane protection for Highway 1 and the wetlands around Elmer’s Island. But for the many people who have spent countless hours enjoying the island through the years, the new beach is breath-taking.

“It looks totally different than it did before the restoration project,’’ said Lightner, who oversees the refuge for LDWF. “The change is incredible. It’s shocking. It was beautiful before and after...’’

Fishing and spending time on the beach are certainly two opportunities visitors can enjoy at Elmer’s. But, Lightner said, there is so much more to it.

LDWF began managing the property after the state claimed it in 2008. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development repaired an access road in 2009 and later it was opened to the public.

“Management is geared towards fishing access, primarily, but we also want to make sure we can protect nesting shorebirds,’’ Lightner said. “Elmer’s has grown into an area used for research, volunteer opportunities, coastal restoration projects and outdoor education.”

Saltwater marsh, coastal dunes and beaches are the prevalent ecologic features in the area. The refuge property includes a tidal zone, natural and restored dunes, and an expanse of open area leading to a back bay, which is surrounded by mangrove and saltwater marsh habitat.

That makes Elmer’s Island a great place for not only surf fishing but for the take of saltwater marsh species. And it’s just a short walk between the marsh and beach front. Sport fish found in the area include red drum, spotted sea trout, southern flounder, pompano and blue crabs.

Birding also is a popular activity at Elmer’s Island and the diversity is impressive. Eastern brown pelicans are prevalent and white pelicans can be seen in the winter. Sea gulls hang out with shore birds and are plentiful. Raptors can also be observed.

In all, more than 170 species of birds are believed to utilize Elmer’s Island and the surrounding beach and marsh during some point in their life cycle, Lightner said. About 40 of these species are listed as bird species of conservation concern in Louisiana. Piping plovers, federally listed as threatened, forage on Elmer’s Island up to nine months of the year. The island has been formally designated as critical habitat for the species.

Adult diamondback terrapins, currently considered imperiled in Louisiana, and nests have been documented on and around Elmer’s Island.

It’s also not unusual to see pods of dolphins in the water on the east side of the island.

Non-consumptive activities such as outdoor education programs, university research and cleanup projects are popular on Elmer’s Island, too.

And, as many Louisiana families have noticed through the years, it’s a great Louisiana beach getaway that isn’t hard to find.

The public can reach Elmer’s Island on an access road connecting Louisiana Hwy. 1 to the refuge beach area. Unless otherwise noted, the island is open from 30 minutes before sunrise through 30 minutes after sunset. Driving on the beach is prohibited. Boat access to the island is also an option.

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT ELMER’S ISLAND REFUGE

Location: Elmer’s Island is located on the southwestern tip of Jefferson Parish about 50 miles south of New Orleans. It is located across from Caminada Pass from Grand Isle.

How to get there: The public can access Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge via an access road connecting Louisiana Hwy. 1 to the refuge beach area. Driving on the beach is prohibited. Boat access to the island is an option.

Rules and Regulations:

  • Use of the refuge is permitted from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. This includes any land access routes to the refuge. No person or vehicle shall remain on the refuge or any land access routes during the period from 30 minutes after official sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • Possession of glass bottles, glass drink containers or other glass products is prohibited.
  • No one is allowed to be on the grounds of the refuge during a restricted access period; or alternatively may do so only in accordance with restrictions set forth by the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
  • Commercial fishing, conducting any guiding service, hunting, pursuing, killing or molesting, or intentionally disturbing any type of wildlife on the refuge, except for the legal recreational harvest of living aquatic resources, is prohibited.
  • Areas marked as restricted by signs posted by the department are off limits.
  • Non-consumptive users need no permits of any kind for beachcombing, picnicking, swimming, etc. Anyone fishing recreationally will need a fishing license if over the age of 16.

 

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