Tabasco Sauce Family Helps Protect Louisiana From Hurricanes, Flooding

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Tabasco Sauce Family Helps Protect Louisiana From Hurricanes, Flooding” – below is their description.

    A Louisiana family world famous for their Tabasco hot sauce is helping to conserve wetlands which protect the region from hurricanes and flooding.

    The U.S. state on the Gulf of Mexico has lost thousands of miles of coast in less than a hundred years

    As storms grow more violent and Louisiana loses more of its coast, the family is fighting erosion in the marshland. The marshes act as buffers protecting the factory from hurricanes and floods.

    Overall, it’s probably a standoff, says CEO and president Harold “Took” Osborn, great-great-grandson of the McIlhenny Co.’s founder.

    “We’re in the marshes, which means we’re basically at sea level. Avery Island is a high point in that. It’s 168 feet tall. It’s a salt dome,” explains Osborn.

    The company has been brewing Tabasco Sauce here on Avery Island since 1868.

    Osborn says: We’ve been making Tabasco Sauce here for 152 years. We’ve been, it started out as sort of the original cottage industry. It was made in my great-great grandfather’s pigeonnier, if you will, and he was making it in the 1860s, late 1860s, 1870s.”

    The company is located on the tip of a salt column several miles deep.

    It fills up to 700,000 bottles a day, selling them in 195 countries and territories.

    While sinking land is a problem throughout southern Louisiana, Avery Island and four smaller salt domes along the Gulf Coast are still slowly rising.

    But the danger from hurricanes remains.

    A 20-foot (6.1-meter) high, $5 million (USD) earthen levee now encloses the 40 acres (16 hectares) or so around Tabasco’s factory.

    This is because Hurricane Rita’s storm surge pushed floodwaters within inches (centimeters) of the place in 2005.

    Much of the wetlands work is low-tech, enlisting volunteers to plant marsh grass in the 30,000 acres (12,100 hectares) around the small island a few miles north of Barataria Bay.

    It’s also one of the areas hit hardest by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

    “Resources have always been hard to get here, and that’s sort of, our ethos has been conservation in that way and conservation in other ways as well, which is anything that we get out here,” says Osborn.

    Osborn holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Oxford University, but one might say conservation is in his DNA.

    The company’s founder, Edmund McIlhenny, was a self-taught naturalist.

    Osborn’s great-grandfather, E.A. McIlhenny, created an egret rookery at the island in 1895 because the birds were nearing extermination by hunters who sold their plumage to adorn women’s hats.

    In recent decades, McIlhenny Co. has armored shores against erosion with big rocks and has terraced wetlands to slow waves enough to let sediment drop out and form new land.

    Land Manager Heath Romero explains how the grasses help slow the erosion.

    “Most of your grasses, you have to plant on the bank line. This stuff, you can actually plant in the water. And what it does is it forms a barrier, so it catches the sediment behind it, so you get the other grasses that take off behind it. And as it builds up, you know, you reclaim marsh,” he explains.

    As he steers a company boat, Osborn points to an expanse of grass stretching deep into the marsh. Ten years ago it was open water – an oilfield canal that had widened over time.

    Its mouth was plugged by planting clumps of smooth cordgrass a few feet apart wherever the bottom was a foot or less below the surface.

    While the grass traps sediment, new shoots spring up from underground stems. As the sediment builds up, new marsh grass fills in behind it – rebuilding marsh.

    Osborn says: “The key to our success is when you slow the water down or the erosion down – and it works well in South Louisiana, because you’re like – we like a slow pace, so if we can slow things down, it has a really positive effect.”

    According to Osborn this wetland restoration is doing more than protecting his five-generation family business.

    Marsh restoration around Avery Island has the added benefit of helping protect cities and towns to the north.

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