Barataria’s Long Winter

An Oiled Sliver of Marsh, a Vanishing Rookery IslandWith David Peck, GRN went out on a winter recon of Louisiana’s wetlands in exterior Barataria Bay. Louisiana’s Delta is unique on Earth for having a landform created by such a powerful river, the Mississippi, emptying into a gentle sea. (although the biblical Nile, pushing into the Mediterranean can compare.) The Tide is gentle in the Gulf of Mexico, allowing large expanses of low marshes and shallow waterbodies in the Delta. These are the nurseries for many small creatures that grow to range widely over the Sea. For birds, fishes, and other animals, Louisiana’s marshes are a great place to grow up, but also to eat. The Delta feeds so many creatures, including humans–most cities are built upon estuaries. For the sake of the Nation’s shipping, Louisiana’s marshes have been estranged from the River that borne them. For the sake of the Nation’s oil fix, the marshes have been lacerated by the industry’s canals and pipelines; and just now, in 2010, oiled beyond recognition by BP. Restoration will involve repairing all three of these types of damages, and it is a great challenge, but one the Delta can meet with your help. Bay Jimmy is a bay adjacent to the larger, deeper Barataria Bay. The marsh that separates these bodies of water is quickly eroding into water, and soon Bay Jimmy will be another lobe of Barataria Bay. BP’s oil penetrated boom and barges to emerge in this interior location. It’s the heavily-oiled area closest to the highway, and so it has been in the media, and on our blog a bit. The response to the oil required the sacrifice to the marsh, and so this strip, black with oil, is all that remains. This weekend we saw that, despite the efforts of Government, overseen by BP, Bay Jimmy remains oiled, and will remain this way for some time. There is emergency restoration planned for this site, in the form of Oyster-based erosion control called “Gabion mats.” These mats serve a triple function, as erosion control and habitat for oysters, which are habitat themselves for shrimps and fishes. These kind of technologies, that do a lot with a single project, are the practices that our urgent situation require. Cat Island once was a long string of an island, now separated into smaller bits. The main one we witnessed was protected from BP’s crude in 2010, but it still looked a long way from vigorous. A handful of Brown Pelicans sheltered themselves with the small patch of black mangroves that remain. Each picture we took, we took from a place that was an island according to all of our maps. But these places are now water deep enough to float our small boat at low tide. Another, adjacent bit of Cat Island was smaller than the boat. It may not even have showed but for the fact that we were in very low water today. This sliver of land was all that remained after being “moderately” oiled. Barataria is a national and world treasure, and the home of many creatures large and small. It provides for these denizens, as well as the upright interlopers that speed through its waterways by combustion engines. Its absence makes human settlements and nationally important infrastructure vulnerable to winter storms as well as larger hurricanes. After the long winter, we hope and work and act so that spring will come again. Scott Eustis is GRN’s Coastal Wetland Specialist

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