Shell donates $50,000 to Nicholls

03 21, 2012 by Houma Courier

Oil industry giant Shell has donated $50,000 to Nicholls State University’s biology department to strengthen a native-plants program.

The money will support the Louisiana Plant Initiative, which is spearheaded by the school’s biology program and involves several universities throughout the state.

The initiative uses students, instructors and community volunteers to distribute native plants used to help bolster coastal Louisiana.

Allyse Ferrara, a biology professor who leads the project, said the Shell donation will allow flexibility. Grants typically come with strict spending guidelines.

“If something breaks that we can’t pay for with a grant, this will let us fix it,” she said. “It allows us to have the freedom to go do additional things that aren’t funded by our other grants.”

Ferrara and her team grow plants that are native to coastal Louisiana and help keep the ecosystem balanced. Grasses, weeds and other plants not native to the area often have different growth cycles that don’t support local animal life nearly as well as native species.

So far, the project has planted thousands of native grasses and mangrove trees in places like Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island, Leeville and the Fourchon area. Ferrara said the native plants will help spur growth of plants and animals, resist invasive species and anchor the soil against erosion.

The project also keeps a stock of plants inland in case floods, hurricanes or other events destroy swaths of plant life.

“Let’s say there’s some sort of catastrophe,” Ferrara said. “This will let us move in quickly and replace the lost ground to prevent that damage from becoming permanent.”

Ferrara said Shell’s donation is a result of a long partnership between the company and Nicholls. Aside from helping bolster the initiative’s budget, the company regularly sends volunteers when the group goes on a planting mission.

“They’ve been really good with us,” she said. “It’s actually a lot of fun. We really enjoy having them come out with us; we feel like we’ve made some friends in that company.”