Mudflats, marshes and rice fields in the Gulf Coast region provide significant habitat to a substantial proportion of the shorebirds migrating through or wintering in the Mississippi and Central flyways. Resident species include the black-necked stilt, willet, Wilson’s plover, and snowy plover. More abundant migrants include greater and lesser yellowlegs, common snipe, semipalmated, least, and stilt sandpipers, Wilson’s phalarope, American avocet, marbled godwit, and long-billed curlew. Endangered piping plovers winter locally on beaches and mudflats along the Gulf Coast.
Several commercially important furbearers are resident in wetlands associated with the Gulf Coast, including the river otter, muskrat, and nutria. Nutria are an exotic species that contribute to coastal marsh loss by eating marsh vegetation beyond a point from which it can recover, resulting in large open water areas that accelerate erosion rates of interior marshes. The Louisiana marshes account for more than 40% of the national furbearer harvest recently valued at $1.3 million. The marshes also support an increasing American alligator population that is the basis for a $19.8 million industry in Louisiana (LDWF 1997).
The Gulf Coast marshes also provide important habitat for a variety of commercially important fish and shellfish, including red drum, spotted sea trout, menhaden, shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters. Collectively, these and other species contribute to over 20% of the national commercial fishery harvest (Southwick Associates 1997), which represents a $2.2 billion dollar industry in Louisiana alone. Recreational fisheries related to coastal marsh habitats support an additional $944 million dollar industry.
DU, via the SRO, and in cooperation with many state and federal agencies, private corporations, and private landowners, offers a full range of conservation programs along the Gulf Coast. Nearly all of DU’s accomplishments in the Gulf Coast conservation region have been through partnerships with other conservation interests, but DU is a leading partner in delivery of programs. DU has a full staff of biologists and engineers that work in tandem on a variety of wetland restoration, enhancement, development, or protection projects.