america's wetland tour guide story outline

WHY THE CONCERN ABOUT AMERICA'S WETLAND?  As you read through this document and other parts of this website, you will find that this valuable treasure has been disappearing, in some cases before our very eyes, during our lifetimes.

  • Between 1932 and 2000, we lost 1.2 million acres (approximately the size of Delaware)
  • The loss continues today at the rate of about 24 square miles per year
  • Hurricane Katrina destroyed about 80 square miles of vegetated wetlands in about 8 hours; for the same area, the non-hurricane prognosis had been that we would lose about 60 square miles in 50 years.
  • When we lose America's WETLAND, we lose our ecosystem, economic base, and culture.

WHAT IS AMERICA’S WETLAND?  America’s WETLAND is the name for Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.  It is so named because there is no wetland in America that provides the nation with more benefits than those that coalesce along Louisiana’s coast (oil & gas, fisheries, shipping and navigation, etc.).

BRANDING THE PHRASE AMERICA'S WETLAND? It is very important to use the phrase "America's WETLAND" when talking about Louisiana's coastal wetland.  The state made a committment to "brand" coastal Louisiana as "America's WETLAND" to place it, in the minds and hearts of the average American, on a pedestal equivalent to the "Everglades" and "Chesapeake Bay."

WHO IS YOUR AUDIENCE?  For most swamp/ecotour guides, our audience may be riders on boats or in buses, customers in various situations, and/or audiences to whom we make presentations.  For the sake of brevity, all possible audiences will herein simply be referred to as “riders.”

THE CORE MESSAGE.  The following discussion sets the stage for the “Core Message” that should be shared with riders on swamp and ecotour trips.  There are suggestions for content information, and methods/messages to share.  Detailed information is to be found elsewhere on this website.  We suggest you frequently check the FAQs and Official Numbers for updates.  These two sections are constantly updated to reflect the current understanding of the status of America’s WETLAND.

WHAT IS THE CORE MESSAGE?

  • America's WETLAND is an area of world ecological significance.
    • America's WETLAND is home to 79 rare, threatened, and endangered species.
    • America's WETLAND, the heart of the Mississippi Flyway, is the wintering ground for 5,000,000 ducks and other waterfowl each winter.
    • America's WETLAND is the North American gateway to hundreds of millions of Neotropical birds migrating to their nesting grounds each spring and back home each fall.
  • America's WETLAND is the largest and most threatened coastal wetland ecosystem in the continental United States.
    • America's WETLAND is 5727 square miles in size.
    • America's WETLAND contains 40% of all tidal marshes in the continental U.S.
    • America's WETLAND is experiencing 90% of all coastal marsh loss occurring in the U.S.
  • America's WETLAND provides vital hurricane protection to the 2 million citizens living in the area.
    • Rebuilding America's WETLAND (Louisiana's coast) should be part of any comprehensive coastal protection plan
      • The belt of coastal wetlands - America's WETLAND - act as a buffer that reduces the impact of storms on coastal cities and facilities important to the well-being of America.
      • A sustainable barrier island zone, if reestablished, protects the integrity of the coastal wetlands behind them
  • America's WETLAND is the most economically valuable coastal wetland ecosystem in the continental United States.
      • America's WETLAND produces 30% of all coastal fishes in the continental U.S.
      • America's WETLAND contains 7 of the top 10 ports for landings of commercial fisheries in the entire U.S.
      • America's WETLAND is the passage point for 30% of all oil and gas entering the U.S.
      • America's WETLAND is home to the NUMBER ONE port system in the U.S. - The Port of South Louisiana.
  • America's WETLAND is home to one of America's most remarkable cultures - that wonderful mix we call Louisiana's "Gumbo" Culture, so named because it is formed by mixing a vast assortment of cultures and allowing them to merge their best qualities, just like the marrying of an array of seasonings in Louisiana's unique cuisine.

ARE THERE OTHER IMPORTANT MESSAGES THAT NEED TO BE SHARED? 

  • It is most important to educate citizens about the interconnections of nature and their connections to the coastal wetlands.
  • Tour guide professionals are experts/citizens who are dedicated to conserving, restoring, and educating about America’s WETLAND.
  • Our nation is presently (2006) losing America’s WETLAND at a rate of 24 square miles per year.
  • This loss of America’s WETLAND is a national crisis – an as yet uncontrolled hemorrhage of a national treasure.
  • We have the knowledge and tools to turn this situation around – and we’re trying. 
  • We just need a bigger national investment.
  • America’s WETLAND is a wonderful place (not a nasty place infested by bugs, snakes, and other creepy crawly things – though they are fascinating!).
  • All of the cultures that make up the local "gumbo" culture settled here because of the coastal wetland – America’s WETLAND.  They love it and sustain their lives from it.
  • The Mississippi River is alive and dynamic.
  • America’s WETLAND developed from the rich soils and freshwater brought to this area by the Mississippi River from a drainage basin consisting of 41% of the continental United States (39 states and two Canadian provinces).
  • We are all, in some way, connected to the Mississippi River's drainage.
  • Considering all the challenges we face in this crisis, no one is wrong – there is no single villain.  Virtually every mistake made that led to this situation was made with some aspect of the public interest in mind. 

CAN THE CORE MESSAGE CHANGE?  Yes.  The core message is a living message that will change as new information is received.  It will also change as we creatively develop new ways to show the importance and values of America’s WETLAND.

HOW TO SPREAD THE CORE MESSAGE.  Be sure to repeat the core message several times to your riders, each time in an appropriate context. 

  • Drivers should give the core message while taking riders to their destinations,
  • Boat captains obviously deliver the message,
  • Exhibits that may exist at the boat dock or in and around buildings should address core messages,
  • Presenters who entertain riders before boat/walk/bus departures should share the core message,
  • Drivers should again share the core message when returning riders to their hotels,
  • Web sites should contain the core message,
  • Publications, including brochures that attract riders, should contain the core message,
  • If the swamp/ecotour business has a restaurant or gift shop, menus and signs should contain the core message,
  • Parts of the core message might be posted in restrooms, and
  • ALL employees of swamp/ecotour businesses should be required to be able to share the core message

Management decisions for the business should be made on the basis of the core message.  It is what drives the business (=brings in the money) and it will lead to protection of the resource (that brings in the money).

HOW BIG IS AMERICA’S WETLAND?  It is 5727 square miles, representing 40% of all coastal wetlands in the lower 48 states.  At its greatest development, it was about 14,000 square miles (most of that loss was due to natural causes).

WHAT ARE THE PARTS OF OUR LOCAL "GUMBO" CULTURE?  It is a mixture of the following great and interesting cultures:  Native American (Choctaw, Chitimacha, Tunica, Atakapa, Houma, Koasati, Coushatta), French, Spanish, Acadians, African, German, Canary Islanders (Isleños), Americans, Filipino, Jews, Latin Americans, Irish, Chinese, Greeks, Syrians, Lebanese, Dalmations & Croatians, Italians, Vietnamese, and Laotians.

WHAT WAS AMERICA'S WETLAND LIKE BEFORE EUROPEAN HUMANS ARRIVED?  IMAGINE BEING THERE.  There were expansive wetlands that were flooded each spring when the Mississippi River rose over its banks, supplying freshwater and sediment across the land.  Swamps stood thick with huge cypress and tupelo-gum trees, festooned in Spanish moss.  South of present day New Orleans, the only high ground was the natural levees along the margins of the river, bayous, and other streams.  Native Americans lived on them (as we do today), and used them to travel about in the very wet area (as we do today, except that we have paved the old Indian pathways).

Since the swamps and marshes were very healthy and dense, wildlife of every type abounded.  The skies were full of ducks and geese, the water was thick with fish and shrimp, and the land was crawling with mammals, reptiles, and birds.

The biggest difference was in the existence of vast stands of forests.  In America’s WETLAND, there were swamps with cypress and tupelo-gum trees six feet or more in diameter.  What must the early explorers have thought when they first saw America’s WETLAND?

WHY DID WE SETTLE WHERE WE DID WHEN THE NEW CULTURES ARRIVED?  As mentioned above, we settled the high grounds, which were the natural levees along the waterways.  Native Americans before us had done the same, but they move north when the river rose during the spring, and returned when the river went down and the levees were again exposed.

Just as the Native Americans, we travel up and down the old natural levees.  Just as the Native Americans, we travel the waterways in our boats.

SPECIFICALLY, WHY WAS NEW ORLEANS BUILT WHERE IT IS? 

It is easy for non-Louisianians to wonder why anyone from the "modern world" would settle in a dank, sinking subtropical area full of alligators, snakes, and insects.  Bienville chose the French Quarter area for his settlement because it met certain economic needs.  Before the settlement of New Orleans in 1718, all shipping coming down the Mississippi River and destined for Mobile had to exit the mouth of the river and sail across Breton Sound.  During good weather, this was no problem.  However, southeast Louisiana is known for its storms of various types.  These storms made a crossing of the very shallow Breton Sound, in the relatively small sailing vessels of the day, very treacherous. 

Most people believe that Bienville, arriving by boat on the Mississippi River, landed at a point where Iberville Street meets the river today (one block east of Canal Street). 

Actually, he arrived by foot as he walked from the headwaters of what we today call Bayou St. John.  He chose the site of the French Quarter because it was the nearest place to transfer cargo from the river to Bayou St. John, a sheltered waterway to Lake Pontchartrain. 

Once cargo was portaged to ships waiting at the head of the bayou, it was shipped down the bayou, through Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne, then along the Mississippi coast to Mobile.  Obviously, this was successful because New Orleans flourished, becoming the richest and second largest city in America at one point.

Later, a canal (Carondelet Canal, later New Basin Canal) was constructed that connected Bayou St. John with the rear of the French Quarter at Rampart Street.

The end was widened to provide a turning basin for ships as they arrived or departed.

The began the Port of New Orleans.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE TO ADAPT TO LIVE HERE?  We built higher levees to keep the Mississippi River from flooding us (the current system was designed after 1927, in response to the great flood of that year).  As the land behind the levees sank, we developed a pumping system that lifts rainwater about 5 ft over the levees.  The pumping system in New Orleans can keep the city dry when it is raining 2 inches per hour.

We also have to build up land before we build a house, or we build houses on piers.  The lowest place in the city is at the Louisiana Nature Center in eastern New Orleans - 12 ft below sea level!

HOW DID WE CHANGE THE NATURAL PROCESS?  WHAT ARE THE TRADEOFFS?  During the annual river floods (caused by melting snow and spring rains in the northern reaches of the Mississippi River basin), the river would spread out over the land.  People got tired of being flooded, so we built levees to keep the river from flooding our homes and business.  This was a good move that allowed stability of communities and economic and population growth. 

But since the levees were built, the river can't spread out and deposit new soil over the land, so as the land sinks it is not being replaced.  As our land sinks, we see the Gulf of Mexico creeping toward our towns.

The tradeoff: We stopped the flooding from the river, and now we are facing flooding from the Gulf of Mexico.

HOW ARE WE ALL CONNECTED (IN SOME WAY) TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER?

Print the map below (go to a Kinko’s and have it blown up and printed in color).  Hold up the map to show your riders the drainage of the Mississippi River (the drainage is shown in yellow).  Tell them the Mississippi River drains 39 states and two Canadian Provinces, totaling 41% of the continental U.S. 

(map by Louisiana Land & Exploration)

Ask how many riders live in the yellow zone.  How many have relatives who live in the yellow zone?  How many do business in the yellow zone?  Tell those who did not raise their hands that they obviously vacation in the yellow zone because they are here today! 

Tell them that if they live in the yellow zone and pour a glass of water on the ground, it is possible that someday you will drink that water as it makes its way down the Mississippi River.

HOW DID THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA FORM?  The Mississippi River built the delta with soil that it carried from the central U.S. over the last 3000-6000 years.  Basically, imagine a garden hose moving back and forth as it sprays water.  The Mississippi River moved back and forth, over 3000-6000 years, and spread water and soil that settled out and created the great Delta that the riders are visiting today.  If you are traveling along one of the old delta courses (e.g., Bayou Lafourche, Bayou Teche, Bayou Segnette, Bayou Terrebonne, Bayou Sauvage), you can tell your listeners, "At one time, the Mississippi River channel ran right where we are today."

AMERICA'S WETLAND IS ERODING AT THE RATE OF 10.3 SQUARE MILES PER YEAR.  Ask if the riders can imagine losing 10.3 square miles per year where they live.  Tell them that America’s WETLAND is experiencing 90% of all the coastal erosion taking place in the U.S.

WHY IS IT SO BAD THAT WE ARE LOSING AMERICA'S WETLAND? 

  • America’s WETLAND provide habitat for many, many species of plants and animals.
  • America’s WETLAND provides the organic (dead plant) matter that supports life in the Gulf of Mexico.  Little critters eat the dead plants, then bigger critters eat them, then bigger critters eat them, and so on until we have speckled trout, redfish, red snapper, turtles, tuna, and much more.
  • America’s WETLAND is the nursery ground for all the seafood we like to eat.  No coastal wetlands, no seafood.
  • Our local culture that people like to visit exists because America’s WETLAND is here.  We define our lives by the existence of coastal wetlands - America’s WETLAND.
  • The loss of America’s WETLAND also makes us more vulnerable to hurricanes.  It not only affects us here in Louisiana, but it costs our visitors from around the country tax dollars, and it might even turn off their natural gas that is piped from here to their homes to make electricity and to heat homes.  This happens when pipelines are damaged by hurricanes after being made more vulnerable by the loss of coastal wetlands.
  • America’s WETLAND is an irreplaceable part of our national heritage.

CAN COASTAL LOSS BE STOPPED?

  • We can’t stop the coast from changing, but we do have the tools to get your coast back to a healthy condition.
  • Louisiana’s push to restore America’s WETLAND is the largest habitat restoration effort in the U.S. (maybe the world).

 WHERE CAN I SEE SOME OF THE RESTORATION PROJECTS?

While many of the restoration projects can be seen only by boat (or plane), a number of them are located along highways and can be seen easily. 

Along The Mississippi River:

Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion – located along River Road on the east bank of the Mississippi, at the St. Bernard/Plaquemines Parish line. (www.lacoast.gov/programs/Caernarvon/index.html)

 Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Structure – located along River Road (Hwy 19) on the West Bank in St. Charles Parish, east of Luling. (www.mvn.usace.army.mil/pao/dpond/davispond.html)

Sanish Pass Diversion – located off Tidewater Road, outside of Venice, LA, on the west bank of the river. (www.lacoast.gov/reports/display).

White Ditch Siphon – located in Plaquemines Parish, 0.75 mi south Belair community on LA 39, west side of the road.

In Southwest Louisiana’s Chenier Plain:

Highway 384 Hydrologic Restoration – located in Cameron Parish, 3 miles north of Holly Beach; north of La Highway 82 and east of La Highway 27. (www.lacoast.gov/reports/display).

Holly Beach Sand Management – located in Cameron Parish, extending between Holly Beach and Constance Beach. (www.lacoast.gov/reports/display).

LINKS TO BOUNDLESS INFORMATION ABOUT AMERICA’S WETLAND.