End of the Line: Losing Louisiana?
Another tour Marie has in mind is to Barataria Bay, where Jean Lafitte’s pirates lived on heavily forested islands full of wildlife. No refuge there even for honest swamp folk now. Most of the islands are gone. And two years ago, when BP spilled 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, the nastiest photos of gunked-up pelicans were taken there. Today, what’s left of the land provides perching and breeding space for thousands of clean pelicans. They seem to be rebounding. But dolphins are sick. Dolphins used to jostle each other aside to surf along the bow of Bob’s catamaran. They would slip up underneath, between the two hulls, and give the boat a little lift. Now they are seriously ill from oil.
But the main threat to the coast is loss of mud. A natural bayou will work out winding ways to distribute mudflow so as to keep itself grounded, but when people come in for oil or sulfur or timber, they cut straight canals and hump the mud up alongside. People dredge the river to keep shipping channels wide and unimpeded, so mud has no time to get itself settled where things can grow in it and hold it there. Mud gets pushed downstream into the Gulf. A half century or so ago, a tipping point was reached. Louisiana is shrinking at a rate of thirty-three football fields a day.
Of course, nobody is playing ball on those fields. And that mud got in the way of stuff people need. Nearly 30 percent of the nation’s crude oil needs, let alone the seafood, comes in through the Louisiana coastlands. So do we honor the coast by reducing it to nothing but pipelines?
The following sentence may not make your heart leap up: The state of Louisiana has developed a master plan. Well, Marie and Bob are for it. Money from the BP settlement will help pay for it. It is designed to start tipping the coast back, eventually, toward Mother Nature’s plan.
Mother Nature wouldn’t approve of how we’ve altered Jimmy. But he is still affectionate (when it suits him), travel-ready, and full of beans. He will come running, leap through the air, grab my arm with all four legs and fling me—or would, if he had more leverage—over his shoulder. Unlike the wetlands, Jimmy is growing. And we will take care of Jimmy.