By: Allana Morawski
As many locals describe it, the culture of Louisiana is like a gumbo. “It’s a bunch of different spices and flavors simmering over time…that blend together and taste delicious,” explained Dr. Bob Thomas, director of Loyola’s Center for Environmental Communication. However, almost any Louisianan would also tell you that the key ingredient holding this Louisiana gumbo together is the land, particularly the wetlands, and it is disappearing at an alarming rate.
The coastal wetlands of Louisiana give the gumbo state its flavor. The cuisine, Mardi Gras and live jazz music are all parts of Louisiana’s culture that make it so unique, but by far the richest, most exotic, rare and unique aspect of the state are the wetlands.
According to Dr. Thomas, coastal Louisiana is home to 40 percent of the lower 48 states’ marine fisheries, and has the best fishing industry in the nation, second to Alaska. The estuaries off Louisiana’s coast are what make its fishing industry so bountiful, and provide the state with seafood for dishes, like gumbo, making it one of the seafood capitals of the U.S. Additionally, the oil taken from Louisiana offshore drilling, comprises the largest source of domestic oil in the U.S.
The loss of land off the Louisiana coast represents a continuous threat to the state. New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Mark Schleifstein, noted that the Louisiana wetlands form the important barrier islands. These islands not only provide an abundant ecosystem to sustain birds and marine life, they provide protection for the residents of Louisiana by creating a buffer against storm surges caused by hurricanes. Without the barrier islands to stop the Category 5 winds and water flow from Hurricane Katrina, Schleifstein explained, the levees broke under the strain.
Katrina not only cost the lives of many residents of Louisiana, it temporarily threatened to wash away one of the country’s most vibrant cultures. And despite the overwhelming media attention the region received after the storm, a shocking majority of our country remains completely unaware that the coastal wetlands of Louisiana continue to be at stake.
Andrea Taylor, with the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activity, stated that since the 1930s, Louisiana has been losing land annually, with an average total mass equal to the size of the state of Delaware. But for whatever reason, coastal Louisiana has not gained national attention around this issue on the same level as the Florida Everglades or the Chesapeake Bay.
Taylor, voicing the concerns of many in Louisiana said, “At the end of the day, all of Louisiana needs to be on the same team,” in order to provide education and outreach on the coastal wetlands issue.
Dr. Thomas suggests “branding” this issue, by calling for federal attention to “America’s Wetlands.” He stated, “These lands provide significant resources for the entire country. This isn’t a regional issue. It’s a national issue.”