8,000 re-purposed Christmas trees from families in New Orleans are getting new life as breakwaters in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.
Wednesday, Louisiana National Guard helicopters dropped the trees into the marsh as U.S. Fish and Wildlife crews anchored the bundles into place.
Refuge manager Shelley Stias says Christmas tree drops like this have helped bring back nearly 100 acres of marshland in recent years.
"It's a slow process," Stias said. "It takes time. It's something that we can see from year to year. Every time we come out to mark the marsh, we see the growth that has happened from last year's projects."
Most of the citizen soldiers participating in the airdrop were born and raised in Louisiana. Helicopter pilot Captain Richard Suarez is from Mandeville.
"Being from Louisiana, growing up, we know that coastal erosion is a huge problem here," Suarez said. "Something I can do personally to have an effect on reversing that or stemming it, is something that has a lot of meaning to me."
PHOTOS: Christmas Trees restore La. marshes
So why is it important to regrow the wetlands at Bayou Sauvage? A healthy marsh is like a sponge, it absorbs water and it helps to lessen the impact of storm surge from an approaching hurricane.
"When a storm comes, a healthy marsh will absorb all of that water and slow the wave action down," Stias said. "Not saying that New Orleans will not flood, but it will not flood as bad."
This year, the water fowl population in the refuge was the highest it's been in more than a decade. That's another sign the marsh is responding to the tree drop project.
"It's important because it works," Capt. Suarez said.
"By doing something as simple as putting out a Christmas tree, you are saving the marsh," Stias said.
New Orleans Christmas trees have gone to Bayou Sauvage for more than 20 years.This year, they were dropped in an area called the Joe Madere unit.