NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Work has begun off Louisiana on a project to more than double the size of an island in the nation’s second-oldest wildlife refuge.
The project will add 400 acres (162 hectares) of new habitat for birds and animals on North Breton Island, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Taylor Pool said currently covers about 290 acres (117 hectares).
North Breton Island is at the southern end of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt on a 60-mile-long (96-kilometer-long) sweep of barrier islands. It’s the only refuge he ever visited, according to its website.
Without restoration, the island would dwindle to a sand bar by the early 2030s, the U.S. Geologic Survey has said.
North Breton now houses one of Louisiana’s largest colonies of water birds, including one of the largest pelican nesting areas, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release about the work. The barrier islands also protect New Orleans and other parts of southeast Louisiana from hurricane storm surges.
Callan Marine LTD has a $54.9 million contract to pump up to 5.9 million cubic yards (4.5 million meters) of sand – enough to fill the Empire State Building more than four times – from the Gulf of Mexico floor onto the beaches, dunes and marshes of North Breton Island.
It’s starting at the north end, where pelicans nest on shrubby mangroves. Working from north to south, the company is expected to finish in the spring, before the next nesting season, the news release said.
A century of erosion, hurricanes, the BP oil spill in 2010 and a smaller spill in 2005 have eaten away at the islands. Hurricanes included Katrina and Rita, which ate away 80% of the chain’s land area in 2005, according to the refuge’s website.