The Martin family grew up among the marshes of Lafourche Parish, trawling shrimp, while navigating bayous filled with thick aquatic vegetation. It’s a fond memory for 71-year-old Ted Martin, who still can vividly recall trudging through those wetlands as a child, with thick plants surrounding him. The problem, he laments, is that it’s disappearing.
“Back then you could barely get through it, it was so thick with vegetation,” says Martin. “Now, it’s wide open.”
Martin is the founder of Martin Ecosystems, a small family-run business launched in 2008 to manufacture environmental solutions for erosion control, habitat loss, and stormwater and wastewater management. The emphasis is on family, with four of his five children working with him: Nicole Waguespack serves as president; Chad Martin is director of operations; Melanie Martin heads finance and administration; and Jason Martin, the youngest of the siblings, is the sales manager. Ted’s wife, and their third daughter do have an ownership stake in the company, but are not involved in its daily operations.
Their friends jokingly used to call them the “Get Along Gang,” referencing a group of 1980s animated characters whose adventures highlight the importance of teamwork. But the affectionate nickname is fitting. The family sits around a large conference table in their Benefit Drive office space, passionately talking about the miles of coast that is disappearing daily and how they are trying to save it. All have a love of the water and a motivation to protect where they grew up.
“I think about our camp in Leeville and how so much marsh has disappeared since my dad was a kid,” says Jason. “And I would be surprised if it is still there when our kids visit. And that’s sad to think about, so that’s why we do what we do.”
Martin Ecosystems came to life 11 years ago, not long after the family patriarch met his sons in Montana for a hunting trip. Jason and Chad graduated from college in Montana and while on the trip, their tour guide told them the three about a man named Bruce Kania, founder of Floating Island International. Ted liked his ideas and thought about how he could implement the product in Louisiana.
“I said, ‘take me to meet him,’” Ted Martin recalls. “And in 2008 we started Martin Ecosystems and had the first licensed floating island in the United States.”
Martin Ecosystems manufactures products to help protect the shorelines, reduce land loss and support aquatic ecosystems. Its main product is called “The Matrix.” Manufactured with 100% polyethylene terephthalate—PET plastic drinking bottles—The Matrix has the look and feel of a strong Brillo pad. It’s the foundation for the company’s other products, including Floating Islands, Floating Treatment Wetlands and the EcoBale. The company has recycled more than two million water bottles, Waguespack says, adding that more than 33,000 square feet of islands have been installed, creating new marsh habitat and improving surrounding water quality while two miles of EcoShield has been installed, protecting levees, berms and terraces.
“I believe they have made a great difference—and an affordable one,” says Joey Breaux, agricultural and environmental specialist and admin coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Office of Soil and Water Conservation. “They have helped with shoreline restoration and what they are doing is so important and really something that hasn’t been done before.”
Martin Ecosystems’ products are used in projects all over Louisiana and the United States, along coastlines, rivers and lakes. Locally, the company installed a floating island in the City Park lakes across from the Knock Knock Children’s Museum and domestically, it installed floating islands in the Chicago River. Its EcoBales have been installed in marshland along Louisiana, protecting exposed oil and gas pipes and decreasing hurricane impacts.
“The EcoBale is their number one product to me,” says Donnie Garrison, senior offshore operations supervisor for Shell Pipeline. “Born and raised in Louisiana, I’ve heard about coastal erosion my whole life, but it took me being personally involved in it to understand. If you have a pipe that is exposed from eroding dirt and you can save millions of dollars by diverting that water with a product like EcoBale and not shutting the pipe down, it saves money and time.”
In 2018, the company made $1.1 million in revenue and installed about 1,200 feet of EcoBale for pipeline demarcation and decreasing canal water flows. Their products are manufactured in a warehouse off Airline Highway in an area tucked behind Siegen Lane known for industrial businesses. As the company continues to grow, the family hopes to continue educating the public about the importance of coastal erosion and the economic impact of Louisiana’s coast. In January, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced plans to designate more than $350 million to wetland and coastal restoration. And local officials say Martin Ecosystems can help with this restoration.
“We’ve seen the success of Martin Ecosystems products first-hand,” says Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities and chairman of the state’s Coastal Restoration and Authority. “In areas where we have experienced years and years of land loss, they are helping restore marsh and wetlands. Ted and his company are definitely a tool in our toolkit and the projects that have been tested so far with their products, they have all done beautifully.”