Coastal Education Research Facility

UNO’s Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences (PIES) opened the Shea Penland Coastal Education and Research Facility (CERF) earlier this year. The field station serves as a site to conduct professional research and educate students about
important issues relevant to the economic and social sustainability of coastal Louisiana. CERF is located close to Chef Menteur Pass between Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain and less than a quarter of a mile from the 23,000-acre
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, the largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States.

“A major goal of the CERF and PIES is to foster connections among all levels of education and research, from research scientists to educators to students at all stages of learning,” explains Chris Schieble, CERF operations manager and research
director at the PIES Nekton Research Laboratory. “[It] serves as a central point where all these people can interact, learn and work towards conserving coastal Louisiana.”
 
 Facility research activities include fishery research, coastal restoration research and studies of long-term impacts of proposed changes to coastal systems, including hurricane protection levees, marsh creation and river diversions. CERF also has served an important role during the Gulf of Mexico BP Deepwater Horizon crisis. Researchers have not only used the location to test for oil infiltration and to monitor fish populations, but also as a staging area for oil spill management.

CERF's location on a major tidal pass makes it an ideal place for important climate change related data collection. Surprisingly, CERF’s location is also literally within New Orleans city limits, so all local students are close enough to participate on a “day-trip” basis.
The Coastal Education Program serves schools in the southeast Louisiana coastal parishes, providing programs for elementary to high school grades. CERF’s audience includes underrep-resented and underserved groups and CERF is ADA compliant. In addition, it offers professional development opportunities for area teachers and provides teaching materials for the classroom.

The CERF education programs focus on increasing students’ awareness and understanding of the values of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, the issues facing them, and the choices we have for protecting and restoring them. Their methodology emphasizes inquiry-based science activities that cut across the science disciplines and also include the social sciences. One of the programs at CERF is part of a larger program to encourage minority students to study the Geosciences. Field based classes offered at CERF cover a range of topics, including: water quality and biological data collection; GPS and GIS mapping technology; remote sensing technology; measuring rates of land loss using aerial photography and satellite imagery; wetland habitat assessment; and many others. The activities presented are aligned with the Louisiana State Science Grade Level Expectations (GLEs).