Our flags were waving in the clear cold air as we left Grand Isle to cross an eleven-mile expanse of open water. The voyage route across Andrea and Caminada bays was indicated by green day markers spaced about a mile apart. Without these you might as well have been in the open Gulf, for little land could be seen. You could, however, see the Leeville bridge part way across. The navigation markers follow a channel six feet deep to the entrance of the Southwestern Canal. From there it's about eight miles to Leeville. We turned north before Leeville and anchored out in North Lake to study and photograph the salt marsh there.
Ray Cheramie, a college buddy who grew up in Grand Isle, made the trip with us. Like everyone who knows the local area could, Ray told about how much more marsh and land were here when he fished and hunted in these wetlands with his dad and friends many years ago.
Where there was marsh it was beautiful in the low sun. Wire grass (Spartina patens) is the predominate plant here. It's about 3 feet tall and tan in color, and it glittered like gold in the winter light. What a delightful sight that was against the gorgeous blue sky backdrop. At lake and bayou edges oysters became visible at low tide; I guess that's why this grass is sometimes called "oyster grass."
The surrounding waters are populated by many fish, particularly redfish. Sue proved that by catching her limit of "rat reds" (small redfish) in one hour. We cleaned two that were about 18 inches long for dinner and let the rest go. Check out our Lagniappe Recipe section to see how we cooked them.
Sue wasn't the only fisherman. At dawn I photographed the sunrise from the top of the Wetland Wanderer and saw White Pelicans dunking their heads, fishing in unison. In groups they fish by herding prey toward the edge of a pond. Cormorants were fishing alongside the pelicans. When fish are involved, you usually see these two species together. Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns were diving for their fish, the terns daintily and pelicans clumsily, but both efficiently. Then a crabber came by to check his traps, and he was followed by two boatloads of sports fishermen. In a healthy marsh there are plenty of fish for all who want them.
The salt marsh, a rich and important feature of the coastal ecosystem, is greatly endangered by subsidence. This is the process whereby the soils compact and sink under there own weight. With no new sediment from Mississippi River floods, the marsh stays underwater too long, and the plants die. Like Ray Cheramie, I and almost anyone else who has been down here cannot help but notice the vanishing marsh. For all those fishery resources to continue to thrive out here for us all, we must act fast to repair the Louisiana coast.