More informed coastal restoration decisions have become increasingly important given limited resources available for restoration projects and the increasing magnitude of marsh degradation and loss across the Gulf Coast. This research investigated the feasibility and benefits of integrating geospatial technology with the traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of an indigenous Louisiana coastal population to assess the impacts of current and historical ecosystem change on community viability. The primary goal was to provide coastal resource managers with a decision-support tool that allows for a more comprehensive method of assessing localized ecological change in the Gulf Coast region, which can also benefit human community sustainability. Using remote sensing (RS) and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping products, integrated with a coastal community's TEK to achieve this goal, the research team determined a method for producing vulnerability/sustainability mapping products for an ecosystem-dependent livelihood base of a coastal population based on information derived from RS imagery prioritized with TEK. This study also demonstrates how such an approach can engage affected community residents who are interested in determining and addressing the causes and mitigating the decline of marsh habitat.
Historical image data sets of the study area were acquired to understand evolution of land change to current conditions and project future vulnerability. Image-processing procedures were developed and applied to produce maps that detail land change in the study area at time intervals from 1968 to 2009. This information was combined in a GIS with acquired TEK and scientific data sets relating to marsh vegetation health and vulnerability characteristics to produce mapping products that provide new information for use in the coastal restoration decision-making process. This information includes: (1) marsh areas that are most vulnerable; and (2) the areas that are most significant to community sustainability.