Back to the Marsh

A year ago I visited South Louisiana at its brightest point in the post-Katrina era. The Saints had just won the Superbowl, New Orleans was buzzing again, and the marshes were full of healthy fish, birds, and critters.

And then, a month later, the rug was again yanked from beneath their feet.

Last week I had the rare opportunity to share one boat with two guides, and it was interesting to hear their points and perspectives on the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the state of the marsh that sustains their careers. While the spill certainly did have disastrous effects on the economy and ecology of the Louisiana marshes, the amount of oil that actually came ashore paled in comparison to the mountain of sensationalist sludge that the media heaped upon them. Fortunately, Mother Nature has a remarkable knack for taking care of herself and the fear-mongering conveniently went away as soon as the pipe was plugged.

We fished one of the hardest-hit areas during this recent visit, and from my view it appears that South Louisiana dodged a big greasy bullet. There were still a few patches of black mud visible at low tide, but as a whole, the marsh was as vibrant as I’ve ever seen it. The birds were abundant, new grass shoots were sprouting with the onset of spring, and the redfish were fat and happy. Unfortunately, however, the oil clean-up effort and BP’s financial reimbursements can only be viewed as a temporary solution to a much larger problem.

Louisiana is still sinking.

As Captains Bryan Carter and Alec Griffin explained to me during our quick tour of the southern marshes, Louisiana is currently losing a football field of marsh grass every 30 minutes, and with each clump of grass that sloughs off and floats away on the tide, that rate of erosion increases. In simple terms: after only 80 years of dredging channels and building levees alongside the Mississippi, we hominids have destroyed a river delta and estuary that took millions of years to form. Before man got involved, the Mississippi could deposit her silt load, naturally, over hundreds of square miles from Baton Rouge to Venice. Nowadays those sediments are fast-tracked to the end of the line and dumped off the shelf into deep ocean. Since the levees were built in the early 1900’s, Louisiana has lost the land equivalent of Rhode Island.

And what does all of this mean for the redfish? With each passing day they are losing a big chunk of their traditional habitat. With each piece of barrier marsh that washes away, another freshwater pond full of cypress and bluegill gets overrun by the brine. And, unfortunately, there is no cheap/quick fix for this one. As Bryan and Alec explained, if we knocked down every levee tomorrow, it would still take eons for the river to rebuild a fraction of what’s been lost.

Fortunately, the erosion problem will not decimate the redfish marshes overnight. It’s more like death by a thousand cuts; it’ll take a while. In the meantime, the fishery is thriving again after the oil spill and if you’re pining for the pull of a honker redfish, then give Bryan and Alec a call.

To see the rest of this shoot, please click here.

Captains Bryan Carter and Alec Griffin

No oil on this flat

(L) Foster Creppel shuckin’ dinner (R) Roosting ibis on the banks of the Mississippi

Woodland Plantation: a good spot for chillin

Alec working on a bank crawler

Redfish, oh yea

Spirits Hall at Woodland

Plying the marsh

Noodling spoonbill at low tide

One Response to “Back to the Marsh”

  1. Great shots and post, Uncle Tosh.

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