This is the article that received a 3rd place award in the Coastal Restoration Category at the Louisiana Outdoor Writer’s Association Excellence in Craft competition-2009.
“Tenacity over Tears” is a phrase I coined in reference to the repeated reaction of the residents of coastal Louisiana to the continued negative impact on their homes, culture, recreation, and way of life by coastal land loss and hurricane devastation.
It is a phrase I will continue to use and plaster across every mode of media possible.
Why? Because I want the world to know the brave commitment the residents of coastal Louisiana display, despite all adversity and seeming lack of concern by most of the nation and the world. I want the nation to realize the value of coastal Louisiana as a supplier of oil, a shipper of goods, and as a sportsman’s paradise.
Coastal Louisiana is valuable. It is vital. It is worth restoring. It is worth protecting. And I dare say that if another country came along and destroyed an area the size of Delaware, the American government would be up in arms immediately.
Yet, this is what has happened with coastal Louisiana, and there has been no such outcry. While we watch the evening news and worry about the war in Iraq and a shaky economy, another football field of precious coastal marsh slips away.
The Army Corps of Engineers are the wizards of wetland restoration, because they hold in their hands the magical power to either help or hurt this coast, with the latter seeming the prevailing choice. It’s just a matter of saying “yes” to the implementation of restoration projects that strain like racehorses at the starting gate.
There are currently two schools of thought on whether or not coastal restoration would save this state’s coast. The first is that it is too late to save this coast. The second is that we just have to do something.
Part of the Louisiana coast is made up of one of the twenty-eight estuary systems in the nation—the Barataria Terrebonne Estuary System (BTES).
Formed by years of flooding of the Mississippi River, the BTES makes Louisiana’s coast different from all the other Gulf of Mexico states. There are no sandy beaches. There is no blue-green seawater. However, this estuary system more than makes up for the lack of tourist-like shorelines. The BTES is a place where freshwater from the rivers, lakes, and bayous meets up with the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico, creating a unique balance of salinity necessary for developmental phases of marine life.
Estuarine species such as red drum, black drum, spotted sea trout, and flounder depend on this rich nursery ground for part of their life cycles. In turn, the sport-fishing industry depends on the abundance of the red drum and spotted sea trout as target species for table fare, recreation, and competition. With Louisiana resident and non-resident fishing license sales reaching 650,000 and red drum anglers alone generating approximately $35 million annually, how could any angler give up on the idea of restoring coastal Louisiana?
While commercial fishermen also take their fair share of marine species in the form of shrimp, oysters, and blue crab, it would behoove both sport and commercial fishermen, alike, to race to the rescue of this incomparable estuarine system. Where else is there an estuary system that supports such a vital fishery—both recreational and commercial? Nowhere.
These things weigh heavy on the minds of fishermen and women this time of year, as June 1 marks the beginning of a new hurricane season. They enter the season knowing that there was not enough marsh to protect the valuable nursery grounds from the storm surges of the 2008 hurricane season, and even less marshland now as a result.
They enter the season with unspoken fears that another large storm will make landfall to the west of their coastline, while the estuary systems sits like a defenseless army at war without weapons–the barrier islands which once provided protection, are already gone.
Anyone who has fished the waters of coastal Louisiana knows there is no other fishery so diverse and resilient as this. Without coastal restoration, though, the BTES will vanish before our eyes. Is this a chance fishermen and woman are willing to take?
We could give up, hang our heads, and cry. Or could we? Fisher folks have an obligation to an ecosystem coast that has provided so much. One could and should contact government agencies and see about getting involved in restoration projects, such as volunteer marsh grass plantings. Talk to your state legislators about where they stand on the issues of restoration. Find and join organizations that focus on wetland advocacy and support restoration efforts. These are just a few of the ways in which one can give something back to an ecosystem that has consistently given to him or her.
There is only one BTES, the boundaries of which are moving further and further inland. Without aggressive restoration, and at the current rate of loss and the added loss caused by storm surge, this system will deteriorate beyond salvation. Fishermen and women have an immediate decision to make: They can choose tenacity, or they can choose tears. Tenacity gives us hope for the future. Tears just plain give up. Which will you choose?