Mangroves in the Bayou? How biodiversity research supports nature-based solutions for coastal resilience

A pair of two-day events in the US’s Gulf Coast region looked at ways in which nature-based solutions designed to combat the effects of climate change in coastal areas can also support economic and community resilience. Speakers from Germany joined regional representatives and local participants at each of two stops. The first event, Nature-Based Solutions for Coastal Louisiana, combined a full-day symposium of interactive dialogues featuring researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policy leaders with a day of planting cypress tree saplings with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The second event, Climate by the Bayou, took place in Houston where field activities also complemented a series of discussions on coastal resilience. Partnering with several local organizations in both Louisiana and Texas, the two events brought together ideas and actions supported by science and accessible to the community, helping to make coastal resilience more tangible and, with nature-based solutions, more sustainable.

Before getting out into nature, speakers and participants engaged around a series of questions that helped lay the foundation for collaborative work. We questioned what makes a coast resilient, inviting perspectives that might initially seem incompatible, such as economic growth and environmental protection. This led us to conversations about the productive potential of nature-based solutions, both in terms of flourishing biodiversity and carbon capture of healthy ecosystems. Such benefits extend beyond the specific projects, as our discussions about the community, health, and social benefits of nature-based solutions showed. The talks wrapped up with a reimagining of a blue-green economy capable of creating regenerative links among research, government, business, and advocacy, links made even stronger through the outdoor activities that followed.

In both Louisiana and Texas, local representatives were joined by a contingent of researchers from Germany that included Dr. Véronique Helfer and Professor Dr. Martin Zimmer, both from the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research at the University of Bremen, and Vanessa Haines-Matos from the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn. At the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Foundation just east of New Orleans, they were joined by representatives of city and state governments, the Meraux Foundation’s Blaise Pezold, landscape architect Dana Brown, fisheries expert Mark Shexnayder, Eric Sparks from Mississippi State University, Corey Miller of the Pontchartrain Conservancy, and Michael Biros, Restoration Programs Director at Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, organizer of the cypress planting activity.

At the Armand Bayou Nature Center on the outskirts of Houston, we were joined by local speakers from Harris County, Debalina Sengupta from Texas A&M University, Ryan Bare of the Houston Advanced Research Center, Jim Blackburn from Rice, Texas Community Watershed’s Charriss York, and the Nature Center’s Tim Pylate. On the afternoon of the first day, electric bus and boat tours of the 2,500-acre Armand Bayou Nature Center were available for participants. Texas A&M’s Southern Regional Climate Center organized a day-two symposium that continued the conversation. Around forty people from each community participated in the events. Consul General Kai Hennig took part in both the Louisiana and Texas programming, representing Germany’s Consulate in Houston, which supported the project. POCACITO’s Max Gruenig moderated.

Presentations and discussions in both locations offered a multitude of potential nature-based solutions to address the specific conditions faced by coastal communities on the frontlines of climate change. One especially well-known concept – tree planting – became a way to understand the issues at both the global and local scale. For example, Zimmer and Helfer’s research shows how mangroves planted in tropical regions across the globe help stabilize ecosystems affected by significant swings in water and erosion. The same principles support the planting of cypress trees in Louisiana’s wetlands. And because cypress trees are native to the area, they speak to both ecological and cultural identities that often motivate increased community engagement. It was in this spirit that we traveled to the Central Wetlands Unit to plant cypress saplings with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

More and more we hear of nature-based solutions being implemented all over the world to mitigate the consequences of unchecked climate change. Whether rewilding front lawns, greening urban areas and architecture, or restoring wetlands, stakeholders working at every scale are turning to nature to address the environmental realities their communities are now facing. This is not to say these approaches to building resiliency are new – they arguably existed before the problems did. But what has become increasingly evident, even inspiring, is how nature-based solutions create solidarities among so many of these stakeholders – whether motivated by science or economics, culture or grassroots activism – that enable action to confront climate change.

Thank you to Erika Boerr from the city of New Orleans and Lisa Lin, Chief Sustainability Officer of Harris County, for their support in realizing these events.

To view presentations from either the Louisiana or Texas symposium, you can click on the following links. Slides shared by the German speakers are found using either link.

Nature-Based Solutions for Coastal Louisiana, Nov. 14, 2023 – Presentations

Climate by the Bayou (Texas), Nov. 16, 2023 – Presentations