Archive for Voices of the Delta
By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation
On April 20, several members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign gathered with community members in Davant, Louisiana, to commemorate the 5th anniversary since the BP oil spill with testimony and discussion about how the terrible oil unleashed on that day is still affecting us all. Those gathered included representatives from NGOs, fishermen, residents of coastal communities, business leaders, employees of restoration agencies and others.
While there is widespread agreement that restoring our coast is a priority and that BP should pay to repair the damage it created, we sometimes disagree on how best to achieve these goals. Our collective situation is urgent. Unfortunately, our differences sometimes prevent us from making rapid progress. When we let ourselves become attached to one idea or one way of doing things, we may begin to see those with different ideas as one-dimensional opponents – making it less likely we’ll be able to solve our land loss crisis.
To avoid this outcome, I and my colleagues make contact with a variety of people concerned about restoration, in as many ways and as often as possible. The invitation to the workshop for Plaquemines Parish Fishermen and Fishing Communities five years after the BP oil disaster was a welcome opportunity to learn more from the first-hand experiences of others. The panels and discussions dealt with how BP had settled – or not – with fishermen, the damage left behind from the oil and the dispersant and how the citizens of lower Plaquemines Parish were coping –or not – with the environmental, financial and cultural losses forced upon them by the oil spill.
Testimony from fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen clearly spelled out some of the obstacles they still face. Prior to the spill, many had served as deckhands on oyster boats or as small operators selling sack oysters from the public seed grounds. For some, troubles began even earlier with Hurricane Katrina. Following the oil spill, producing the necessary proof of loss of income was difficult for many of these fishermen, resulting in their receiving little to no compensation from BP.
Other participants expressed concerns about the long-term effects of dispersants sprayed during the oil spill, the failure of oysters to recover on the east side of the river and how the oil spill was still unravelling the economic fabric of the lower parish. The marina, they said, the “heart” of the community, is now silent and without business. Before Katrina and the spill, this was a center for exchange within the community. Families gathered here after school. Young men earned spending money by unloading oysters. Trucks came in and out, loading and shipping seafood. Without this “center”, people feel the heart of their community is gone. “What is the price of a tradition?” one woman asked.
The participants in this workshop provided a glimpse into the real struggles they face in trying to recover from the impact of the BP oil spill. Sharing individual stories helps us view each other as real people with good intentions seeking to make it right. When we see each other as people with unique stories and valuable perspectives, we can better empathize with and address each other’s concerns about the uncertainties of coastal restoration.
The reward? A new tradition of people from different walks of life working towards the same goal – collectively sustaining and stewarding our coast and coastal communities for all Louisianans. That is a tradition worth building.
Next in our Voices of the Delta series, you will meet Captain Troy Frady: Alabama native, owner of Distraction Charters in Orange Beach, Ala. and Gulf Coast restoration advocate.
Occupation: Owner/Operator at Distraction Charters in Orange Beach, Alabama
What does the Gulf Coast mean to you?
My earliest memories of coastal Alabama date back to the early 1970s. There were not many people on the water back then around Orange Beach, Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island. The fish were abundant and our estuaries were teeming with life. Over the past 40 years, I have seen things change from what I remember as a child. I have seen our coastal wetlands drained or filled, environmental pollution, overfishing of our marine resources, and residential and commercial development. All have contributed to the decline of what was once a pristine coastal environment.
After 21 years of working in the corporate world of banking and logistics, I decided to fulfill a childhood dream of making my living on the water. I took off my tie and hung up my coat and purchased a 41’ Hatteras and began charter fishing in 2002.
After entering the charter fishing fleet, I noticed that there were a lot of anglers who were overharvesting reef fish simply because they could. I wanted to be different and develop my niche. I began educating my customers about conservation and why it is important to release some of your catch. I had already seen what overfishing had done to the resources since childhood, so I decided to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. I began marketing “Keep the Best, Release the Rest,” to help manage fish populations.
The effects of the BP oil spill have complicated our fishery rebuilding process. It may be years before we know the full effects of what the oil and dispersants did to our reef fishery and the deep water marine ecosystem.
Why is it important to move quickly to restore all coastal wetlands and estuaries?
Over the years, our pristine coastal areas have been depleted and are in jeopardy of being gone for good. With natural events like hurricanes and manmade events like the BP oil spill, it is extremely important that we all do our part and build buffers around and restore our marine resources. The lessons I have learned in 40 years are valuable, and I don’t want to see future generations witness what we had a chance to correct.
How does the RESTORE Act fit into this process?
For the first time in our nation’s history, we have an opportunity to divert Clean Water Act fines, without using taxpayer dollars, toward projects that will protect our estuaries and marine resources from natural or manmade disasters. The RESTORE Act gives hope to all of us who make our living by educating and being good stewards of such a great national resource. It may be years before we know the full effects of what the BP oil spill did to our marine environment. Only through a robust research and monitoring program will we be able to detect delayed or subtle impacts, track the recovery of the injured species and implement appropriate restoration strategies.
One thing’s for sure — the seafood industry and recreational fishing are pillars of our coastal economy. Neither can prosper without the natural resources that support them. In the gulf, environmental restoration is vital to economic restoration. What we do today will have an effect on what happens tomorrow. Your children and grandchildren will love you more because of it. Restoration is the right thing to do.No Comments
This is the second post of our Voices of the Delta series.
Name: Keith Blomstrom
Occupation: President of the Minnesota Conservation Federation
Why are the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast important to Minnesota?
Minnesota is linked to the gulf in many ways. The Mississippi River starts in Minnesota — its headwaters are located in Itasca State Park, near Bemidji, Minn. — so the river itself means a great deal to us. Some of the beneficial sediment that travels to the delta comes from Minnesota, but at the same time, our farms and cities are responsible for pollution traveling downriver as well. As an acknowledgment of our commitment to the river, the state of Minnesota and the Environmental Protection Agency have recently partnered with farmers and others to clean up water draining into the gulf.
Additionally, our waterfowl winter in the gulf — all total, 75 percent of our continent’s waterfowl pass through the region. The Minnesota state bird, the Common Loon, spends two to three years maturing in the gulf. To Minnesotans, this bird represents wilderness, and it also links us to the Mississippi River Delta.
What does the RESTORE Act mean to you personally?
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I visited a fish camp owned by some friends in Montegut, La., and I saw firsthand the devastation and problems caused by the loss of wetlands. The place we stayed was on 10-foot poles. During the storms, the tidal surge there was 8 feet. Anything that wasn’t higher than that was destroyed. We were 6 miles from the gulf, but the canal was still full of saltwater with bull sharks, stingrays and other saltwater creatures swimming everywhere.
The oil spill further devastated the area, killing the plants that hold together the soil, killing wildlife and hurting the fishing industry. It will take many years for the ecosystem to recover. But with the RESTORE Act, we have the chance to make a down payment on restoration, to help build a better future for the Gulf Coast and for our country.No Comments
This is the first in our “Voices of the Delta” blog series, where we’ll be interviewing coastal Louisiana restoration advocates from across the country. From Louisiana to Florida to Minnesota, these spokesmen and women have come to Washington to tell Congress that the Mississippi River Delta is a vital natural resource and that we need to pass the RESTORE Act now and send oil spill fines back to the Gulf States that deserve them. Check back over the coming days to read more of their stories!
Name: Chris Macaluso
Occupation: Coastal Outreach Coordinator, Louisiana Wildlife Federation
What does coastal Louisiana mean to you?
I have spent my life fishing and hunting in the rich marshes, barrier islands and swamps along Louisiana’s coast. My earliest memories of fishing with my dad are filled with images of vast areas of marsh grasses, scattered coastal ponds and bayous teeming with fish and waterfowl. Endless meadows of golden marsh grass stretched through the wetlands in some of our favorite fishing destinations, like Buras, Grand Isle, Cocodrie and Dulac.
Yet in the 30 years since those first memories were made, most of that habitat has washed away, leaving behind vast areas of open water. Mississippi River levees built to protect communities from river flooding have separated the marshes from their essential sediment and freshwater source. These levees have also made those same communities fatally vulnerable to storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico. Jetties and dredging meant to keep the river open for navigation have directed the land-building sediment into the gulf’s deep waters, and manmade navigation channels have carved up swamps and marshes, allowing saltwater to penetrate as much as 40 miles inland.
Why is it important that we move quickly to restore the Mississippi River Delta?
Simply put, my coast is dying. Louisiana’s coast is losing land at the fastest rate in the world, with more than 1,900 square miles washing away in the last 80 years. There is the possibility of almost that much more vanishing in the next 50 years unless projects are soon built to curb and hopefully reverse that loss.
Many of those projects have already been approved by Congress. A host of freshwater and sediment diversions as well as marsh and barrier island restoration projects meant to fix Louisiana have been listed in federal Water Resources Development Acts over the last 40 years. The state of Louisiana recently released a draft of a comprehensive coastal restoration and hurricane protection plan that optimistically demonstrates coastal land loss can turn into land gains if those projects are implemented.
Sadly though, most of the approved projects languish in wait for funding while tied up in lengthy federal bureaucracies.
Where does the RESTORE Act fit in this process?
The RESTORE Act is an absolutely essential piece of legislation for my home state of Louisiana. If we are to have any hope of making significant headway in reversing the devastating coastal land loss that has plagued the state for nearly a century, Congress must pass this bill.
Passage of the RESTORE Act can provide the money needed to move some projects to construction while helping Louisiana address the environmental damage caused by the devastating oil spill of 2010. More than that, it can give hope that the wetland loss threatening to completely wipe out one of the world’s great hunting and fishing destinations — and the communities and culture that go with it — can be reversed and that Louisiana’s coastal habitats can be sustained for generations to come.No Comments