December 8, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico...Brought to you by BP and the Oil Industry

The Gulf of Mexico is coming to New Orleans, like it or not, thanks to the hard work of the oil and gas industry and with a little help of the Army Corps of Engineers.

We ventured on over to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, because we were told it was one of the top five aquariums in America and Hilina loves fish. Well, I would not say it was Top 5, but it was acceptable. It had good exhibits and Hilina had a good time, although it would have been nice had they focused a bit more on the Mississippi River ecosystem and the salt and freshwater marshes and less on penguins and sea otters. I also felt it was a bit over-priced.

However, something struck me on the final exhibit of the aquarium. The sudden emphasis in the various displays about the oil/gas industry not being "so bad" for the local environment. I did not realize at the time we were there that the aquarium, as well as, the associated zoo, is not operated by the renowed National Audubon Society, but rather the Audubon Nature Institute. So, who is the Audubon Nature Institute? It's hard to tell for sure.

From wikipedia:
"The institute is no longer a part of the National Wetlands Coalition, but it is a "cooperating organization" with America's Wetland Campaign, which is sponsored by British Gas, Citgo, ConocoPhillips, Shell Oil and other energy companies.

The National Wetlands Coalition has opposed U.S. wetlands policy, saying "the federal government, while seeking to protect wetlands, casts a wide net and imposes burdensome and ineffective regulations on private property". Time Magazine called it "a big-biz coalition against wetlands with major industrial companies, such as Exxon, Texaco and Kerr-McGee."

Exhibit at the Aquarium
See, it ain't so bad because jobs and $$$ are more important than land

So, this aquarium that is supposedly an environmental organization that seeks to protect endangered species and educate gets a major portion of its funding from oil and gas, while it also recieves government funding from the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans. Talk about some conflict of interests.

See: Oil Platforms Actually Help The Gulf of Mexico!

In their big "Gulf of Mexico" exhibit, the aquarium has pillons representing the underwater portions of an oil platform. There is a sign discussing how the platforms are so important to the ecology of the gulf as artificial reefs for sealife to anchor onto. But, of course, there is more to this story. Because the extraction of oil and natural gas from the seafloor and from delicate wetlands that buffer the coast causes subsidence it is causing the sea to invade and destroy the wetlands and forested-swamps of South Louisiana.

A picture showing the effects of saltwater infiltration (brown) in the marshes.

But, we were sick of looking at charts and pictures at museums. It was time to see the real thing!

The same spot, 4 years later

So, what does this seawater infiltration look like? We decided to go see for ourselves. We drove about 20 miles southeast of New Orleans to a small fishing village at the edge of the matrix between the freshwater wetlands and the invading seawater called Delacroix. What we saw out there was fascinating....

A dead forest of live oaks caused by a rising water table

The first thing we noticed as we left New Orleans and headed toward the marshes were the miles of dead live oaks. Live oaks typically thrive a few feet above the water table where their roots can stay relatively dry. This massive dieoff is an indication that the water table has risen.

As you head further out toward the gulf, the former forests begin to thin and the freshwater marshes become more prevalent. It is hard to see them from the road because of the levees on both sides. But, if you stop and climb one you can look out across the landscape easier.

Once you reach the edge of the gulf, which remember was many miles away 50 years ago, the freshwater marshes are definitely stressed. Notice the patches of dead rushes where saltier water flows up from the silt? Once dead and rotted, these little holes in the marsh start to expand into open salty ponds and then grow until they connect with the bays to form larger expanses of salt water.

Notice the strip of brown along this little channel?

I do suspect that the strip of brown in this photo are dead reeds from the BP oil spill. But, I did not wade out there to find out. But, clearly the impacts of the oil spill will speed up the loss of these wetlands and the impact will be felt for years if not permanently.

Former land, now open water.

So, what do you do, if you are a 4th generation shrimper or fisherman living in the tiny village of Delacroix out in the marshes?

Well, given the 25 foot storm surges they experienced in Katrina, you better build it high on stilts! Heck, even the people living in trailers need to elevate it!

So, how long can this community, whose roots date back to Canary Islanders arriving here in the 1820's last? Hard to say...They may be able to continue to eeke out a living with their fishing activities, regardless of the loss of wetlands. But, as the ground subsides, it seems likely that these homes will become houseboats unless engineers build levees completely around them and then fill in their flooding enclosure with dirt to make a tall mound.

I love this house

If you have to have a single-wide trailer that can't possibly survive the elements, why not trip it out with a second roof? Fancy two level veranda is optional.

The shrimp boats lined the canal next to the village

This was a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina. But, they have rebuilt most of it.
Just about every home had a pile of crab pots in the driveway

But, whatever becomes of this old fishing community, humans adapt. We move on and move up. Perhaps this village won't survive. But, the people will endure. Not so much can be said of the wetlands and the wildlife that depend on it. The Gulf of Mexico is coming to New Orleans. It is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. And...when appears to be quite soon. So, what do you do?

A test experiment by the Army Corps of Engineers of opening a levee near the mouth of the Mississippi. In it you see it doesn't take long to rebuilt the land if given the chance.

Well, you could restore the natural flows of water and sediment to the river. You could fill in and dismantle the massive network of canals. You could remove or breech some of the levees. Perhaps you could compel the oil/gas industry to pump dense brine into its wells to replace the lost materials and prevent subsidence like they do in other regions of the world.

Or You Can Build a Bigger Seawall

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