We spent an excellent morning kayaking in Shell Bank Bayou. I liked paddling along in my little boat to get a first-hand look at the famous bayous and swamps of Louisiana.
Our tour centered on environmental issues in the state, guided by Marie, John, and Lindsay of an organization called Louisiana Lost Lands. The environmental focus added another meaningful layer to our few hours on the water. We learned that Louisiana loses a football field’s worth of land every forty minutes, which translates to a loss of landmass equal to the size of Manhattan every year.
There are all kinds of negative outcomes that result from this land loss, affecting not only New Orleans and Louisiana, but also the nation. Louisiana serves as the habitat for 90 % of the fish found in the Gulf of Mexico, and 75 % of migratory birds in North America. The Mississippi River has also made New Orleans one of the most important exporting cities in the United States, with more networks than New York or Los Angeles. Losing this area of the country would certainly have harmful effects for all species—birds, animals, fish, and humans.
We did interact with some non-human wildlife during our tour. Most exciting, and most terrifying, were the gars, big alligator-like critters. Some of them tried to overturn our boats, but we all made it through without taking a dip into the swamp. We also saw some alligators, frogs, osprey, and plenty of dragonflies. The bayou is beautiful, with Spanish moss covering tall Cypress trees spreading their many roots right into the water. We learned that Cypress trees are incredibly beneficial to the Louisiana wetlands because their roots stretch deep into the muddy land, providing reinforcement for the earth to prevent erosion and land loss. One of the best things to do to prevent the loss of land is to plant Cypress trees!
Marie and Lindsay also got us thinking about how some areas of the U.S. seem to receive more hype and concern than others. Efforts to address land loss in the Everglades in Florida, for example, seem to have more support than those that target Louisiana’s pressing environmental problems. I do not mean to say that the environmental degradation of the Everglades is not important, only that Louisiana seems to get the shorter end of the stick, being more of a low-income state and a less popular tourist destination.
It was inspiring to see the reverence Marie, Lindsay, and John have for the natural resources of their state, and the passion with which they defend it and educate others about it. Some people do care about this, and are fighting hard to raise awareness. But I still can’t help but think of the lyrics to a Randy Newman song: Louisiana…they’re trying to wash us away
Cypress trees and our guide, John.
Some of our group kayaking in Shell Bank Bayou