The Atchafalaya Conservation Center on Little Tensas Bayou
Atchafalaya Conservation Cente The Atchafalaya Conservation Center on Little Tensas Bayou © Will DeGravelles/TNC

Stories in Louisiana

Floating into the Future on the Atchafalaya River

A new conservation center on barges in the river will be a platform for community-based conservation, land stewardship, restoration and research.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works tirelessly to protect the unique landscape of the Atchafalaya River Basin, which is home to more than 300 species of wildlife, baldcypress forests, 100 different aquatic species and many native plants. Crucial to TNC’s conservation work in the area though is our ability to connect with the local community.

Enter the Atchafalaya Conservation Center (ACC): two 800-square foot buildings atop floating barges on Little Tensas Bayou near Bayou Sorrel. The ACC, which includes a meeting barge and a sleeping barge, is an extension of TNC’s work in the Atchafalaya River Basin and offers more opportunities to engage with landowners and on-the-ground stakeholders.

An artist's rendering of the Atchafalaya Conservation Center's meeting barge.
ACC Meeting Barge An artist's rendering of the Atchafalaya Conservation Center's meeting barge. © TNC

Bringing People Together

“We’re very excited about the opportunities the ACC offers us in terms of connecting with our colleagues, partners and the local community,” says Bryan Piazza, the Louisiana Chapter’s Director of Freshwater and Marine Science. “It’s very important that we continue to promote collaboration and open communication among all of those who are working towards the conservation and restoration of the Atchafalaya River Basin.”

The ACC will welcome an assortment of visitors—from researchers and scientists to students and fishermen—to collaborate and learn more about TNC’s restoration, monitoring and land stewardship efforts. Both barges are equipped to allow access to water, electricity and Internet, so that a wide variety of work can be done on board.

The ACC also serves an educational purpose: it provides graduate students who are part of TNC’s Conservation Fellows Program with opportunities to spend long stretches of time in the environment they are actively studying. The students are able to interact directly with stakeholders, as well as obtain hands-on experience that will help them understand complex problems. 

An artist's rendering of the Atchafalaya Conservation Center's meeting barge.
ACC Sleeping Barge An artist's rendering of the Atchafalaya Conservation Center's meeting barge. © TNC

Adapting and Paying Homage to Life on the River

The design and construction of the research station began in 2017. Two factors contributed to the decision to build a floating structure. The first was to avoid any flooding issues, as the water level can vary by up to 12 feet at the site. Secondly, the finished structure pays homage to the Bayou Chene houseboat community, a tradition that has existed in the Atchafalaya Basin for decades.

“Our current floodplain restoration project will benefit approximately 5,000 acres. We want to magnify this to 100,000 acres, but we need more access to on-the-ground restoration,” says Piazza. “This conservation center is the first step in bringing the restoration effort into the Basin and having the community to see the positive results of our work.”

Major support for land acquisition, science and restoration in the Atchafalaya River Basin comes from a variety of organizations, including Tom’s of Maine, the leading maker of natural personal care products. Every year, Tom’s of Maine donates a portion of its profits to conserve nature for future generations. The company has been giving 10% of its profits for decades and has supported hundreds of nonprofits, including TNC. Tom’s of Maine’s support for the Atchafalaya River Basin is part of a larger contribution of $2.8 million to the Conservancy to support water restoration projects.