Gulf of Mexico
Queen Bess Island. Credit: LSU College of Engineering

LA - Royal Rookery: LSU Alumna Helps Restore Queen Bess Island

It's been 51 years since the brown pelican was reintroduced to Louisiana after the species completely disappeared from the state due to pesticide use in the 1960s. Since then, it has thrived on Queen Bess Island, making it the third largest brown pelican rookery in Louisiana. Another battle looms, however.

Over the years, Queen Bess Island has sunk and eroded into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving less than five acres of suitable land for the pelicans to nest. Racing against the clock, researchers like LSU Biological Engineering alumna Amanda Phillips are working to restore the island's nesting area to its once-vast size, giving the state bird another chance to prosper.

"This project is different than others," said Phillips, a coastal engineer for Fenstermaker in New Orleans. "In many respects, a lot of the projects that have been constructed over the years have been general sense-type projects. A marsh project will restore habitat but it's really just filling in the holes that have developed over the years. But with this project, you had something to identify with—pelican and tern habitat. It's tangible."

Queen Bess Island, a patch of land about two miles north of Grand Isle in Barataria Bay, is the site for 15-20 percent of the state's brown pelican nesting activity. The island is also home to 60 other bird species, such as egrets, herons, terns, gulls, roseate spoonbills, ibis, and others. During breeding season, a few thousand pelicans crowd onto five acres of land surrounded by rock barriers that were installed in the 1990s. The goal of the restoration project, which Phillips has been working on since 2017, is to provide a quality habitat for these birds to nest.

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Listen to Delta Dispatchs Podcast on this and other restoration projects