New research lab open near Grand Isle

Lyle Johnson
A spectacular view can be seen of the research lab from Caminada Bay.

Early last year our state opened a $23 million state-of-the-art research lab built to replace the outdated and hard to get to facility on Grand Terre Island, just east of Grand Isle.

I’ve visited the island many times, usually fishing. So the location was down a road I’d never traveled and caught me by surprise.

I made a left turn on Ludwig Street and the real Grand Isle came to view. Meeting a local or two while on a fishing trip was not unusual and I often wondered how the town functioned every time an evacuation took place because of a hurricane.

The first “official” building is the Town Hall where Mayor David Camardelle conducts island business. Then there is the Grand Isle School where kindergarten through 12th grade students all attend, and Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church. A few small streets laden with homes are next on the short trip and they are surrounded by weather beaten oak trees. Then it’s Caminada Bay and the Louisiana Marine Biological Laboratory comes to view.

Myron Fischer, director of operations and a former charter captain and a current member of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council welcomed me. He is also a biologist, so Fischer certainly has a vested interest in our coastal fisheries, so he settled in behind his desk and began to tell the story, and then took me on a tour.

Our original lab was located on Grand Terre Island and the only access was by water, so logistics was a nightmare and the facility suffered much damage as the result of storms. The new facility is land based and hurricane “resistant,” constructed to withstand 150-mile winds. Although fully operational and staffed, Fischer lamented, “We still have lots of equipment to transport from the old lab and that’s not an easy task by water.”

All the research takes place in one of the two buildings on the property. One is a 12,000 square foot laboratory containing a wet lab where the dissection of specimens takes place. There’s a dry lab where all the microscopes are, a library, a conference room, offices and many other work areas that include a lab dedicated for LSU biologists to study oysters and other bi-valves.

The other building houses the Educational facilities that include a large room that can be divided into two classrooms or conference rooms connected to a lab with five fish tanks. One of them is the “Touch Tank” where kids can actually experience the “feel” of many different salt water species. On this day all 72 of the Grand Isle high school kids (7th through 12th grades) were there for a coastal erosion workshop.

It’s also equipped with 13 bedrooms which houses enforcement agents and staffers that live on site while working, two bunk rooms, bath facilities, kitchen, dining and entertainment areas, and a laboratory for visiting researchers. Outside is a covered boathouse with slips that have the capability to accommodate 14 vessels. The underside of the lab building also serves as a hatchery area for both shellfish and finfish.

These biologists spend about 25 percent of their time performing Marine Recreational Fish Surveys. They do them at marinas or on land which could be on the surf or roadside angling. They record this data; the species, numbers caught, and length, examination of the gonads for sexing and removal of the odilith for aging. They spend time on chores such as investigating fish kills, clean up, speaking before groups, training, a manatee stranding school and investigating turtle deaths.

The remainder of their work is net sampling which includes trammel nets, seines, gill nets, oyster dredges & a 16’ trawl. They also collect bottom samples to determine and harvest tissue samples to determine mercury levels in fish that are harvested for consumption. This sample collection is very controlled, netting in the same locations determined by GPS waypoints to ensure consistent data. 

I was fortunate to accompany Clint Edds and Robert Boothe for one of five sampling locations that were scheduled for the day. We pulled a 16-foot trawl for 10 minutes. The net is then pulled and dumped in a basket for data collection. Air temperature, wind speed and direction, turbidity, conductivity for salinity and dissolved oxygen is also measured and recorded.

Each specimen is identified and measured for length, then logged in a data book. This catch today started off sort of routine as far as numbers and species collected in the trawl. Several very large white shrimp were removed from the basket first and recorded. I wanted to take these home to eat but alas they were reserved to feed the live fish back at the lab.

Then an Atlantic Bumper and a Butterfish was added to the count. Hundreds of bay anchovies were collected and a puffer was examined next. Common Puffers are routinely caught in the trawl but this one caught Edds eye. “Hey, I think this is a Marbled Puffer but we’ll have to verify it to be sure. We’ve never caught one of these!”

Staff is on hand on Monday through Thursday, so if you’d like a visit, they will accommodate a small tour. Student groups can pre-arrange a field trip also. Got a fish you’d like to weigh for a state record; they can take care of that too! A great place Louisiana can be proud of.

Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you.