CAMERON PARISH, La. (KLFY) — The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) announced the completion of the Rabbit Island project in Cameron Parish, a bird habitat restoration for Southwest Louisiana’s only Brown Pelican colony.

The project was the latest bird habitat restoration by the CPRA and Louisiana Department of Wildlife, Fisheries (LDWF), and the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group (LA TIG).

The total cost of $16.4 million was funded with settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, approved by LA TIG.

Rabbit Island is located in the southwest portion of Calcasieu Lake. Its first nesting season “far exceeded expectations,” according to the CPRA. Roughly 370 nests were anticipated for the 2021 season, but LDWF observed approximately 6,100 nests on the island, including 1,150 Brown Pelican nests.

The 102-acre restoration of Rabbit Island utilized sediment dredged from the Calcasieu Ship Channel. Vegetative plantings of grasses and shrubs will further enhance nesting habitat for Brown Pelicans, egrets, herons, ibis, terns, and other colonial nesting waterbirds.

“We’re thrilled to see our state bird come home to a new and improved habitat,” CPRA Chairman Chip Kline said. “The restoration of this vital habitat is another example of CPRA’s work to increase resilience for all residents of coastal Louisiana – including nesting birds and other wildlife who call Rabbit Island home.”

In 2020 and 2021, LDWF banded 322 Brown Pelicans on Rabbit Island with white leg bands, and many of those birds have returned and are nesting on the restored island today.

“The partnership among CPRA, Wildlife and Fisheries, and our federal partners have resulted in outstanding achievements,” LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said. “The combination of our expertise in wildlife habitats, CPRA’s restoration capability, and LA TIG funding allows for projects like these to successfully restore much of what we’ve lost on Louisiana’s coast.”

Brown Pelicans nesting on Rabbit Island have faced serious threats in recent years, losing approximately 50 percent of all nests to over-washing tides and storm surge between 2016 and 2018. In total, Louisiana has observed a loss of 54 percent of all Brown Pelican colonies across coastal Louisiana. 

Included in the 12 species observed nesting on Rabbit Island, 10 are listed as “species of greatest conservation need” in Louisiana’s Wildlife Action Plan, and all were species that were most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Companies and organizations with Louisiana ties were key to the project and the creation of 130 jobs. Weeks Marine, a dredging company with offices in Covington, won the competitively bid contract for the restoration of Rabbit Island. The project was designed by Louisiana-based Royal Engineering; Baton Rouge-founded RES handled the vegetative plantings, and sediment source surveys were done by the LSU Coastal Studies Institute.

For more information on the restoration of Rabbit Island, click here.