A Bird's-Eye View Of Coastal Wetlands Loss

Aug 11, 2015

A coalition of wetlands restoration advocates are using the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to push their cause, rebuilding marsh along the Mississippi Delta. The MRGO Must Go Coalition wants to remind local residents that Hurricane Katrina’s impact was largely due to environmental degradation caused by private and public entities.

David Muth is the Director of the Gulf Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation. He says one of the challenges to get the public's attention on issues of coastal wetlands loss, is geographic perspective.

"The thing that mostly impresses people when they go up in the air from New Orleans is to realize just how much of a coastal city New Orleans is," Muth says. So he and his coalition of restoration advocates are sharing that bird’s-eye view via airplane.

Costal wetlands loss in Terrebonne Parish viewed from a prop plane.
Credit Jesse Hardman

Flying over the Lower 9th Ward, Bayou Bienvenue — once a cypress swamp — appears as a triangle of open bay. The MRGO outlet resembles a superhighway of saltwater, and canal cuts from oil exploration splice up the green marsh.

Down towards Delacroix in St. Bernard Parish, you can see the shrinking sliver of land people still call home. David Muth points to areas where Katrina storm surge wiped out every building in sight. "There’s some rebuilding, but there’s a lot of dead end driveways. Now everything's going up on stilts."

But there are some positive beacons looking down, too. To the right a coastal restoration project is visible, big dredges are building land, coaxing favorable conditions for marshes back to life. And heading back towards New Orleans, the Caenarvon river diversion comes into view. Muth points to the lush swamp that is building up next to the diversion. "That’s river water coming out, and it built that Delta in what had been 8 feet of water," he says.

Arriving back at the Lakefront Airport, Pilot Emmet Barthalomew shares a story from the first time he flew himself down the coast. At the mouth of the river he did a 180 degree turn, "and low and behold, there was the city of New Orleans. I saw everything in between it, I could see the Superdome and the skyscrapers as clearly as if I was standing next to them, and it was scary."

Barthalomew says having 100 miles of clear view from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, instead of one obstructed by wetlands, stays with him.

Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, Kabacoff Family Foundation and Greater New Orleans Foundation.