With all the new folks following the blog, I think it might be time for a little recap of Wetland Education 101.
My involvement in wetland education began long before it culminated in writing a children’s picture book about coastal Louisiana’s wetland loss, acquiring my U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license, and starting educational wetland eco tours in 2004.
Rather, it began way back in 1979 when I took my first boat ride out to the Gulf of Mexico and saw the beautiful, healthy protective marshes which lie between the landing in Dulac and those warm salty waters. Over the years, saltwater inundation has destroyed those marshes, killing the valuable indigenous plants, resulting in the eventual and slow death of hundreds of acres of protective cypress trees.
All told, coastal Louisiana has lost total square mileage about the size of Delaware, and that loss is now measured in football fields to help us wrap our heads around the information–a football field every 45 minutes, to be more exact.
The first dynamic you must grasp is that any time a hurricane makes landfall to the west of us, our bayou communities are guaranteed a storm surge of varying heights. Back when the marshes were healthy, a seven-foot or smaller storm surge didn’t typically flood our communities, because the healthy marshes acted like a huge sponge, absorbing the water before it reached our homes.
The second dynamic that you must really understand about healthy marsh is that for every 2.7 miles of healthy marsh, a storm surge from the Gulf (wind-driven water) can be reduced by one foot. Communities like the one in which I live, (Bayou Dularge), haven’t always flooded. Rather, due to the deterioration of the protective marsh, these coastal communities have become more and more flood prone.
Now, however, our communities that lie 21 miles from the Gulf end up with standing water after a seven-foot surge, which prior to the 1970s would have gone unnoticed. As a matter of fact, in 2005 during Hurricane Rita and then again in 2008 during Hurricane Ike, a nine-foot storm surge rushed inland, unimpeded, leaving behind five to seven feet of standing saltwater in some places.
This fact drives home the reality that, in spite of ongoing coastal restoration projects, the marshes have not yet been restored to the protective levels prior to the seventies. That is bad news for Louisiana’s coastal/bayou communities.
But much like this little fern that sprouted up in a weathered dock piling, bayou people are tenacious, refusing to give up without a fight, choosing instead to focus on those things which are still vital and good about our way of life.
For example, I am, thankfully, still able to take my customers across water to the last living cypress swamp in this area, exposing them to the lushness which still bursts forth within its boundaries. There’s nothing quite like drifting among the moss-draped cypress trees where blue herons glide gracefully across the bayou, curious about our presence there. Honestly, the majesty is so overwhelming that I can forget for just a few moments the uncertainty of the future of our way of life and culture.
2014 marks ten years that I’ve been writing and speaking about, making people aware of, and guiding them through the remaining uniqueness of the Louisiana wetlands. All the while, this treasure continues to wash away with the encroaching saltwater. Even with all my efforts, I seem powerless to stop the land loss or speed up the restoration, which causes me to take pause and reconsider this journey.
While I’m contemplating the future of my community as I’ve known it, how about I share with you poignant photos of our most recent wetland tour? It is absolutely amazing how much has changed in just the past week. New-growth cypress needles reach through the Spanish moss as if to welcome Spring, finally, to the swamp.
And guess who stood sentinel at the entrance to the swamp, just like he was last time?
Yep. Mr. Green Heron, himself. He deftly picks bugs from the alligator weed for his morning snack.
And guess what else is happening in the swamp?
The alligators are now wide awake, (although we woke this one from her nap), enjoying the warm sunshine, which has been AWOL for most of the past two months. We counted 14 on this two-hour tour!
And then there are the wading birds, resplendent in their breeding plumage. Just so you know–the colors in this photo have not been enhanced. Their natural colors at breeding time are just this brilliant!
This Little Blue Heron was content to sit in the shadows, watching us watch him!
this tiny turtle woke up just long enough to watch us snap his picture as we passed!
With me on this trip was my good friend, Steph, and cartographers Shizue and Ben from San Francisco. They shared with us their latest collaboration of cartography in