Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast

An excellent and sobering look at what is happening from the ground level and the people who are living it in lower Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. It is the story of the "Americanization" of the people and the region through which they pay the ultimate price. The 2010 edition includes an introduction entitled "Introduction: After the Oil Spill" in which Tidwell discusses the impacts of the Deep Water Horizon disaster and the incomprehensible contamination of the region with the deathly toxic Corexit, nicknamed by the locals, "Agent Orange".

Tidwell visits the bayou regions of Louisiana and spends time with Cajun and United Houma Nation families in such bayou coastal communities as Galliano, Cut Off,Golden Meadow, Leeville, Port Fourchon - (Lafourche Parish) and Cocodrie, Bayou Petite Caillou, Chauvin, Bayou Grand Caillou, and Dulac (Terrebonne Parish). During his time with these families, Tidwell soaks up the wonderful story of the heritage, history and celebrations of the once bountifully and naturally rich region.

He also learns of the reality of the region's impending doom at the hands of 2 double edge swords: 1) the oil companies who for at least a few generations, provided the people with opportunity and work, and 2) man's containment of the Mississippi River which now, no longer replenishes the region with it's once rich and overflowing silt.

Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast
The Cajun coast of Louisiana is home to a way of life as unique, complex, and beautiful as the terrain itself. As award-winning travel writer Mike Tidwell journeys through the bayou, he introduces us to the food and the language, the shrimp fisherman, the Houma Indians, and the rich cultural history that makes it unlike any other place in the world. But seeing the skeletons of oak trees killed by the salinity of the groundwater, and whole cemeteries sinking into swampland and out of sight, Tidwell also explains why each introduction may be a farewell—as the storied Louisiana coast steadily erodes into the Gulf of Mexico. "Part travelogue, part environmental exposé, Bayou Farewell is the richly evocative chronicle of the author's travels through a world that is vanishing before our eyes."

Information from the U.S. Geological and Coastal Geology Program on the devastating impacts brought to the region by "Americanization" through the dredging of navigation canals to provide access to oil and gas wells.

From: U.S. Geological Survey Marine and Coastal Geology Program - Louisiana Coastal Wetlands: A Resource At Risk

Louisiana's 3 million acres of wetlands are lost at the rate about 75 square kilometers annually, but reducing these losses is proving to be difficult and costly.

"The swamps and marshes of coastal Louisiana are among the Nation's most fragile and valuable wetlands, vital not only to recreational and agricultural interests but also the State's more than $1 billion per year seafood industry. The staggering annual losses of wetlands in Louisiana are caused by human activity as well as natural processes. U.S. Geological Survey scientists are conducting important studies that are helping planners to understand the life cycle of wetlands by detailing the geologic processes that shape them and the coast, and by providing geologic input to models for mitigation strategies." - S. Jeffress Williams, U.S. Geological Survey

Fragile wetlands are readily damaged, directly and indirectly, by canals dredged for navigation and energy exploration.

Human activities during the past century have drastically affected the wetlands.

Natural processes alone are not responsible for the degradation and loss of wetlands in the Mississippi River delta plain. The seasonal flooding that previously provided sediments critical to the healthy growth of wetlands has been virtually eliminated by construction of massive levees that channel the river for nearly 2000 kilometers; sediment carried by the river is now discharged far from the coast, thereby depriving wetlands of vital sediment. In addition, throughout the wetlands, an extensive system of dredged canals and flood-control structures, constructed to facilitate hydrocarbon exploration and production as well as commercial and recreational boat traffic, has enabled salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to intrude brackish and freshwater wetlands. Moreover, forced drainage of the wetlands to accommodate development and agriculture also contribute to wetlands deterioration and loss.

NOAA map of the 3,858 oil and gas platforms extant in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006

Coastal Erosion

The environmental and economic consequences of coastal erosion in Louisiana are significant.

Barrier islands fronting the Mississippi River delta plain act as a buffer to reduce the effects of ocean waves and currents on associated estuaries and wetlands. Louisiana's barrier islands are eroding, however, at a rate of up to 20 meters per year; so fast that, according to recent USGS estimates, several will disappear by the end of the century. As the barrier islands disintegrate, the vast system of sheltered wetlands along Louisiana's delta plains are exposed to the full force and effects of open marine processes such as wave action, salinity intrusion, storm surge, tidal currents, and sediment transport that combine to accelerate wetlands deterioration.

Terrebonne Parish 
Over the past 150 years, the Isles Dernieres have undergone very rapid erosion and land loss due primarily to natural processes of relative sea-level rise, storms, and sand loss by coastal currents.