In a pilot recycling program, plastic bottles from the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were repurposed into floating islands that slow coastal erosion while providing new habitat for fish and wildlife in Vermillion Bay, Louisiana.

On April 12, 2019, over 100 student volunteers from the Coastal Conservation Association – Louisiana, the Building Conservation Trust, local high school students from AMIkids, middle school students from Catholic High of New Iberia and 4-H members from Baton Rouge installed 12 of the floating islands at Cypremort State Park. This is Phase Two of an existing project in Vermillion Bay.

What is a floating island?

Floating Islands are a form of natural infrastructure (also known as green infrastructure.) The recycled plastic is woven in a strong, buoyant mat with a series of indented, perforated cups. In these cups, the volunteers planted nearly 5,000 native wetland grasses including mangrove, seashore paspalum and smooth cord grass. The islands are tethered by cables to the bay floor to allow some movement, and act like giant shock absorbers to the waves. This process, known as attenuation, slows the water and can help slow coastal erosion. The slowing of water makes suspended soils drop to the ocean floor, creating more land mass underneath.

As the plants grow, the floating islands appear nearly indistinguishable from the natural shore bank. The roots of the native grasses grow down through the water, eventually reaching the sea floor. The roots help filter pollutants from water and provide a haven for beneficial microbes, fish and marine creatures. This, in turn, attracts other wildlife such as birds and turtles. 

Are these floating islands durable?

In a few years, the native plants will spread across the top of the island and will be indistinguishable from the surrounding land.

Floating islands have proven resilient and have been deployed for years in the Gulf with no degradation or waste plastic entering the water. Several have withstood hurricane-force waves and wind. The tethering cables are very strong and these islands installed in April 2019 made it through Hurricane Barry four months later without any damage.

Where in Louisiana are these islands?

While this current project is in Vermillion Bay (on the border between St. Mary’s and Iberia parishes), they have successfully been installed in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. You can also see one at the lagoon near the new Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans City Park.

What about recycling at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival?

As the presenting sponsor, Shell expanded the recycling program to include plastic bottles and aluminum cans during the 2019 Festival to benefit the local Lafourche ARC and Slidell-area Boy Scouts. Shell employees were on-hand both weekends of the Festival to direct patrons to one of ten recycling bins across the fairgrounds. Lafourche ARC and the Scouts ensured that the bottles and cans collected were recycled and diverted from landfills. Money raised from the recycling efforts will be used by each of the organizations to fund their ongoing community and educational efforts. 

2019 marked the 14th year that Shell has been the presenting sponsor of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival since becoming involved following Hurricane Katrina in 2006.