Scooter Trosclair, manager of the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in Cameron Parish, on the beach the refuge's shoreline protection project is helping to restore.

Growing up in south Cameron Parish, Scooter Trosclair has spent his fair share of time in the marshes and wetlands that make up southwest Louisiana’s retreating coast. As a boy, he would go hunting with his grandfather in the morning, then head straight to school, where his mother dropped off a change of clothes before the bell rang.

Today, Trosclair manages the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, a 71,000-acre property donated to the state by the Rockefeller family in 1919, and a frontline of Louisiana’s fight against coastal erosion.

Protecting the marsh and the fertile habitat it provides for fish, crabs and other wildlife, which are rapidly declining, is personal to him. “I have a responsibility to protect that habitat, because the resources it produces made me who I am,” said the Cameron Parish native.

One of the main projects Trosclair has helped bring to fruition is the Rockefeller Shoreline Stabilization Project, which aims to protect the refuge against the waves of the gulf.

052824 Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge map

Since it went into the hands of the state a little over a century ago, 15,000 acres of the refuge have been lost primarily to coastal erosion — that’s an area nearly three times the size of Baton Rouge. The coastline here is one of the fastest eroding shores in the state, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, retreating an average of around 46 feet a year.

To stop the bleeding, Trosclair and his team have placed 4.5 miles of light aggregate rocks, topped with limestone, along the refuge’s shoreline, allowing the marsh behind it to rebuild.

And the project has shown successes.


A group of brown pelicans flies across a stretch of the Cameron Parish coast protected by the Rockefeller Refuge Gulf Shoreline Stabilization Project.

Protected from the waves, the land has slowly begun to build back up and vegetation is returning. “Where they had three feet of water, now it’s just inches and sometimes, when the tide’s out, it’s completely dry,” Trosclair said, adding that on a good day, you can even walk up and touch the rock barrier.

And it’s not just land that’s returning. The rock barrier has also created breeding grounds for speckled trout, redfish and oysters.

“You’re creating the food chain for that environment that’s been altered due to that land loss, the habitat is being restored,” Trosclair said. “This is a gamechanger.”

But getting the project off the ground wasn’t easy.

First proposed in 2001, construction didn’t start until 2018, almost two decades later. Potential funding agencies were skeptical of the project’s viability — what if the Gulf’s waves would just wash away millions of dollars worth of breakwater?

“Everybody doubted it,” Trosclair remembers. “Nothing of that magnitude had been conducted in the Gulf.”

So in 2011, the refuge dipped into its own coffers, along with some funds from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, to test out different materials and create a proof of concept. Eventually they were able to win over more potential funders, and in 2015, they received $33 million from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act to further extend the breakwater.

Over the past eight years since, the barrier protecting the shoreline has been extended in phases, but it’s far from done. To protect the most vulnerable sections of the refuge’s shore, Trosclair said a total of 9 miles would be necessary, double the barrier’s current length.


An aerial image shows the difference between protected sections of the shoreline and those that remain unprotected by the breakwater. Behind the line of rocks, land has begun to build back up.

Protecting Cameron Parish’s shoreline doesn’t just help local residents, points out Jennifer Cobian, who oversees grants for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Although located some 40 miles northwest of the refuge’s shore, Calcasieu Parish will be contributing $2 million in funds to the next phase of expanding the barrier, taking place this year.

A restored shoreline serves as a buffer to protect the more densely populated inland areas, like the city of Lake Charles, from storm surges during hurricanes like the ones that battered the region in 2020, Cobian noted.

“Having that land, those marshes, all of that protection between the coast and where a lot of our residents live creates that buffer,” she said. “If we protect Cameron Parish, we protect Calcasieu Parish.”

Funds used by both Cameron and Calcasieu parishes to support the project will be drawn from the federal Restore Act, which distributes cash from Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and its drilling partners stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill.


Along the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge's shore, 4.5 miles of rocks have been installed to keep shoreline erosion at bay.

Funding from the oil and gas industry plays a significant role in funding the shoreline protection project, as well as other initiatives to restore and improve wildlands and habitats on the refuge.

“None of this would have ever happened without oil and gas,” Trosclair said after rattling down a list of costly projects that have kept the waves nibbling at the shoreline at bay, protected native vegetation and maintained local wildlife populations.

This points to an embrace, uneasy at times, between the coastal communities of southwest Louisiana and the ever-expanding oil and gas industry along this stretch of the gulf coast. Trosclair, like many in the region, is taking what might be considered a practical approach.

“We know what we need to do, it all comes down to funding,” he said. Funding, he points out, that has been hard to come by, especially for southwest Louisiana, a part of the state that’s far away from the cultural and political hubs of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.


Scooter Trosclair, manager of the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge near Grand Chenier, drives an airboat across the reserver's marshland.

As such, Trosclair welcomes the arrival of the LNG industry, a development that has been widely criticized by environmental activists. “When you have that, people are listening,” Trosclair said. “The state is listening.”

And Trosclair is going to need the state’s ear. Despite the successes of the project, there’s still plenty of work to be done to prevent shoreline erosion, combat saltwater intrusion and maintain habitat for local wildlife on and around the refuge.

“If we let all this stuff fade away, to bring it back would pretty much be impossible,” Trosclair said. But, he added, “Southwest Louisiana hasn’t lost it yet. We still have a chance.”

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