The breakwater in front of the Michael C. Voisin Oyster Hatchery on Grand Isle. (John Dale “Zach” Lea)

Instead of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project, imagine several storm protection breakwaters and islands built across the Barataria Basin from the Mississippi River westward to Bayou Lafourche. 

Imagine how those breakwaters would benefit the citizens in Jefferson and Lafourche parishes with better storm protection and lower insurance premiums. Imagine what those breakwaters could look like.

The breakwaters could be the foundations for industrial or urban development. The massive terraces at Slidell provide storm protection and serve as foundations for the multi-million-dollar homes in Lakeshore Estates. The breakwaters could be used to create energy and as the foundations of wind farms. 

They could look like the Lakefront Airport. In the 1920s and 30s, New Orleans used containment walls to hold dredged material until it solidified and produced the foundations for the airport and nearby residential areas.  According to Richard Campanella, these subdivisions became temporary islands and did not flood during Hurricane Katrina. Or they could look like the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Queen Bess Island project. The island is filled with dredged material and surrounded by dikes. The short breakwaters in front of the island are notable. This pattern of the breakwater could be stretched into various shapes depending on the protection needed. 

A similar strategy could be used to restore The Pen, a 3,000 acre lake near the Town of Jean Lafitte. It could be restored to its former state as dry farmland or as a protected freshwater swamp. The containment levees, dry land, and forested swamp would protect the town. The dredged material could be provided by a United States Army Corps of Engineers project that’s maintaining water depth in the Mississippi River. The freshwater used to deliver dredged material to The Pen could be pumped back into the Mississippi River without changing the salinity of the Barataria Basin.  Or, if the dredged material were taken from areas adjacent to the breakwaters, there would be no disruption of the basin’s salinity at all.

Alternatively, several breakwaters, shaped as 12 square mile enclosed areas, could be built near the southern end of The Pen. They could link to the levees near the planned site of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project. These structures would provide much better storm protection for Jean Lafitte. The diversion project will not build dryland or forested swamp. It’s projected to build 13,000-acres of freshwater marsh, which is poor storm protection compared to breakwaters

The breakwaters could be like the marsh terraces built by ConocoPhillips or Ducks Unlimited. These terraces were built with dredged material taken from the areas between the structures13,000-acre. This technique converts shallow water into alternating strips of earth and relatively deep water, which could be deep enough for oyster farming operations.  

Shellevator, a submersible vessel for growing oysters in cages. (John Dale “Zach” Lea)

They could look like the rock breakwaters in front of the Michael C. Voisin Oyster Hatchery on Grand Isle or the three-mile West Shore Lake Pontchartain Breakwater under construction in St. John the Baptist Parish at a cost of $3.3 million per mile. If the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project were scrapped and the $2 billion funding used to build breakwaters, 606 miles of breakwaters could be built, and the brackish-water fishery industries of Jefferson and Lafourche parishes would flourish. 

Breakwaters would also benefit sport fish, oysters, crabs, shrimps, ducks, nesting birds, other wildlife, and the associated industries. Sections of the breakwaters and the nearby water bottoms could be leased to birders, hunters, sports fishers, oyster and crab producers. Oyster production in the basin would double or quadruple. Alternative Oyster Culture farmers could use the breakwaters to anchor and protect their submersible oyster production vessels and bottom-placed or floating oyster-growingcages. 

Breakwaters would facilitate the management of water salinity in the Barataria Basin and attract investment from existing fishing industries. Traditional dredge-based, bottom culture oyster farming could be expanded to include cultivating oysters between the breakwaters and elsewhere in Barataria Bay. Both alternative and traditional oyster cultures would expand rather than contract. 

Contrarily, traditional oyster culture would contract with the disruption of the salinity caused by the Missouri-River-sized flow of questionable-quality, freshwater expected to pass through the sediment diversion project into Barataria Bay.

Imagine this: farmed oysters that attract fish, crab, shrimp, sports fishermen and fisherwomen.

 Jules Melançon checking quality of his oysters, which he raised Alternative Oyster Culture-style in bottom placed cages in Barataria Bay. (John Dale “Zach” Lea)

The Barataria Basin could become an ecologically-sound, renewable, money-maker for the local communities and the state, rather than a fearful part of the encroaching Gulf. Trading the small benefits of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project for better storm protection and the expansion of the Barataria fisheries is wise government. Governor John Bel Edwards has the power to authorize these projects. And the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has the experience to implement them.

John Dale “Zach” Lea, Ph.D. is an agricultural economist. He recommends these links if you would like to learn more about breakwaters: Breakwaters – Taming the Power of the Seas, Creating Safe Harbor in Canada and Geotextile Tubes as Submerged Breakwaters for Harbor Protection. John can be contacted at

The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Opinion Editor Amy Stelly at