Louisiana Washing Back into the Sea

“Louisiana wetlands are disappearing at a rate of up to 25 square miles per year — and taking centuries-old communities with them.”

This is the intro to a great piece on OnEarth that shows us yet again that we can stop talking only about the effects climate change is going to have on the world in the future and start talking more about the effects it is having on the world now.

Getting into the case in Louisiana more, Barry Yeoman of OnEarth writes:

Pointe-aux-Chenes was one of the earliest populated areas to see oil from the BP spill; it washed into Lake Chien and coated the nearby marsh grass a month after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. But long before the spill directed national attention toward Louisiana’s coast, the Pointe-au-Chien tribe was dealing with a more systemic crisis: the disappearance of the wetlands to its south as well as the very land that supports its stilted houses.

Yes, Louisiana is getting swallowed up by the sea.

“All this area was built from sediments from the Mississippi River,” says Verdin, the tribe’s chairman. He’s 53 and square-jawed, with thick brows, crinkly eyes, and forearms chiseled by hard work. “Now the land is washing back to the sea. When I started shrimping in ’75, we used to go to some islands on Timbelier Bay,” a few miles closer to the Gulf. “The oil companies dug canals inside these islands, and we used to go in there to get out of the weather.” In 1980, Verdin bought bigger boats and spent more than two decades shrimping farther off-shore. When he began working closer to home again in 2004, the land where he had once sought refuge now sat under seven or eight feet of water. “The islands just washed away,” he says.

Dardar, who is 56, tells me about a conversation she had with a tribal elder who claimed Lake Chien was once so small that a hunter standing on one bank could fell an animal on the other. “It could be an exaggeration,” she says. What’s indisputable, though, is that on her husband Donald’s global positioning system, this lake appears as a patchwork of land and water. “According to the GPS, he’s shrimping on land,” she says — which means the wetlands are disappearing faster than mapmakers can track the changes.

Without sufficient wetlands to protect the mainland, it too is eroding. “The back of our house, it used to be trees,” she says. “Now [people] are fishing crabs there.”

Global warming isn’t the only cause of these massive changes (though, it’s expected to become a larger and larger one). A handful of things have caused the changes Louisiana is undergoing now and has already undergone:

Over the century, Louisiana has suffered a quadruple whammy that has caused coastal lands to disappear at the rate of up to 25 square miles per year, according to one state estimate. First, the leveeing of the Mississippi River for flood control and navigation cut off its ability to replenish the Gulf Coast’s wetlands with the sediment that, in a more natural system, would overtop its banks during flood stages. That process is necessary to rebuild terrain lost to the natural compacting of wetland soils and the “subsidence,” or sinking, of the land. Second, the dredging of thousands of miles of canals to facilitate both navigation and oil-and-gas extraction has sliced up the wetlands, increasing erosion and providing straight, easy routes for saltwater to funnel into fresh or brackish areas. That in turn has killed off protective vegetation like cypresses. Third, oil and gas extraction has literally sucked mass out of the sea floor, forcing the land to subside even further. And finally, sea-level rise linked to global warming swallows up even more land — a minor factor until now, but one that scientists predict will grow in importance.

For those who live there, this is must be a very sad and difficult issue to go through. Read more about these issues and the Pointe-aux-Chenes on OnEarth: ‘The Land is Washing Back to the Sea’.

Related Story: Louisiana Coastal Protection Study Falls Short

Photo Credit: New Orleans Lady via flickr (CC license)

  • http://www.waldenpeakfarm.com ryan welch

    i really doubt global warming has anything to do with this dire state of our wetlands in LA. seriously just stick to the solid environmental leads.