The past few days we meet with tribal people from 3 different bayous. After seeing and hearing about the issues facing the Mississippi delta from scientific and industrial perspectives for many days prior to these meetings it was really interesting to hear a “spin free” story. These are people who make their living from the coastal waters whose only agenda is being able to put food on the table for their families and live in this place. Their connection to the land is strong and their love of the hard work necessary to make a living in evident. It is proud tradition that continues to this day. This way of life in the delta is threatened at every turn. The threats are of such as massive scale affecting the whole Louisiana coast that it boggles the mind to come up with an idea of where to begin. However the sentiments are clear and the same themes run throughout our dialogs with the tribal people that:
1) The land is disappearing
2) Salt water is impacting their lives
3) We are threatened
4) This is our place in the world.
People from the Grand Bayou Village said it best “We don’t want to be the generation that calls it quits and moves from this place.” However the number of people that are represented by these folks is maybe 2000 people total and that is not enough to compel either the state or federal government to act to save the land on their behalf to ensure that their way of live remains.
Industry and shipping want to maintain the coast as it is now to simplify shipping and the movement of goods and oil. This means maintaining the canals and levees to try and tame the savage beast that is nature and the Mississippi River. This can be symbolized by the new $1.1 billion surge barrier that is now nearing completion 8 miles south of New Orleans otherwise known as “The Great Wall of Louisiana.” It also represents the continued fiddling with nature to repair a previous shortsighted blunder of epic proportions the constructing two canals and levees that created a funnel which concentrated and amplified Katrina’s storm surge and shot it straight into New Orleans creating much of the destruction and devastating flooding in New Orleans.
However, this means the continued loss of marsh and wetlands as well as the continued subsidence of the land because the replenishing of sediments and fresh water in these areas that keeps the Gulf of Mexico at bay lies within the strangled confines of the levees and bypasses these areas and is deposited beyond the continental shelf into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. There was a natural system of wetlands, marshes, and barrier islands that protected the people and the natural resources of this area. This system was maintained by the Mississippi River flooding and flowing where it wanted to go. It dealt with the issues of land subsidence and salt water intrusion by the distribution of sediment and steady flows of freshwater down distributaries. It also maintained healthy marshes and wetlands which is so vital to maintaining a vibrant and rich ecosystem that nurtured shrimp, oysters, and fish.
A feeling of hopelessness washes over you because there are no easy answers a dismal outlook and there is too much money at stake tied to big money players such as oil, industry, commercial fishing, and sport fishing.
I listened as these stories unfolded; I still wonder what to do. There is no panacea that I could see. Maybe, all I could do is to have listened and passed on the story as I just have so that the story lives on and the memory of these people in this place with their love of the land lives on.
Nils "Buster" Landin
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Agronomy