A research team has found a way to restore wetlands by planting trees in a revolutionary new pod and then nourishing the trees with wastewater. The method should be able to slow down coastal erosion in Louisiana. The pod was developed by married couple Gary Shaffer and Demetra Kandalepas.
Earlier this year, the couple’s startup company, Wetland Resources, received $10,000 in seed funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. The duo put the money to good use by developing the pod that could be used to save the natural coast of Louisiana.
A 2011 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey found that Louisiana is losing its coast at a rate of about a football field every hour. Since 1930, over 2,000 square miles of coastline in Louisiana have disappeared.
The coastal wetlands serve as an important storm barrier for the state of Louisiana. This became extremely evident during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The coast has been heavily damaged in more recent years because of heavy storms and the BP oil spill.
The Wetland Resources company of Shaffer and Kandalepas has been working to produce “hurricane-resistant” trees in coastal areas since 2009. These cypress and tupelo trees feature extensive lateral root systems, and they have been strategically planted to serve as barrier to limit the damages from storm surges and heavy winds.
Shaffer says, “They can’t be blown over. They’re exceptionally strong and can live up to a thousand years, even through hurricanes.”
The team of Wetland Resources is only seven people strong. They work during the months of January, February and March to plant as many trees as possible along the shorelines. During these months, water levels are lower, which makes planting easier.
These trees have been largely supported by using treated sewage and wastewater from communities nearby. Shaffer has discovered that this treated wastewater offers rich nutrients for the newly planted forests. However, these nutrients also attract large aquatic rodents which consume everything around them, including the young trees that are being planted.
Eventually, Wetland Resources developed a pod that can be converted into a sleeve for the young trees. This pod can protect the trees from being eaten by the pesky rodents.The pod is also biodegradable, and breaks off once the tree is large enough that it is no longer vulnerable to the rodents. This pod is the prized creation of Wetland Resources, which has spent a large portion of its funding in patenting and manufacturing the tree pods.
The pod also reduces the amount of time it takes to plant the trees. By using the pod, a tree can be planted in 30 seconds instead of the usual five minutes. This allows the Wetland Resources team to plant as many as 4,000 trees every day.
The team is extremely eager to start using their new creation during the next planting season starting early next year. Over the next decade, Wetland Resources hopes to plant more than one million trees in southeast Louisiana.