The voyage down the Barataria Waterway from Lafitte to Grand Isle was shocking, for as prettily as the water sparkled under the low winter sun, the patches of kaki marsh grass were definitely less extensive than they were the last two times I came down this man made channel. Both of those trips were about twenty years ago. According to the "Coast 2050 Report," 400 square miles of wetlands have disappeared since then. I could easily see evidence of such a massive land loss.
We passed a few scattered pilings at the site that was once a thriving Pilipino fishing community at the north end of Barataria Bay (about 13 miles above Grande Isle's eastern extreme). It was called "Manila Village" and had one of the largest shrimp drying platforms on the coast. Lack of refrigeration in the early part of last century made this a big business; today you can still see small packs of oven-dried shrimp in some markets.
In the early 80's Coastal Scientist, John Day of LSU took me out there to see what little had remained of the original above-water dwellings and drying platforms. Now, two decades later, the village remnants consist of only a few dispersed pilings. We also checked out some nearby Indian shell middens and found scattered pottery shards.
A Bottle-nosed Dolphin surfaced to blow out a used breath just 12 miles south of Lafitte, and many sports boats were fishing for redfish in the adjoining canals; both activities showed how much salt water has entered this area. It was a pretty day, but a sad scene - vanishing wetlands!
Sue and I steered from the flying bridge and motored south at a steady 10 mph, content at to soak in the scenery rather than speed down the waterway. With our Boston Whaler now more secure on its davits, it was still too heavy to get the Wetland Wanderer up on a plane. We looked at the bright side; fuel was saved by traveling at hull speed, and less strain was put on the engines. On the patches of marsh and mud we saw shorebirds feeding; meanwhile gulls and pelicans followed our wake, and a few ducks flew in the distance.
As we eventually closed in on Barataria Pass, the channel between Grand Isle and Grand Terre that has a spot over 160 feet deep, both the Brown Pelicans and the dolphins increased in number. We steered west to Grand Isle, secured the houseboat, and then launched the dinghy. A good sunset was brewing. I made my way to the west side of Grand Terre near historic Fort Livingston with its new rock jetty protecting its dilapidating concrete and shell walls.
The setting sun, flying and diving pelicans, and passing boats were great photographic opportunities, but they were nothing like those of the frisky dolphins. Love hormones must have been involved or some sort of mischief because pairs of them were either apparently "tussling" or even leaping out of the water in what appeared to be mating rituals. Pushes, rolls, and tail slaps were happening in the setting sunlight. What a joy it was to see so much active wildlife in this vanishing wetland. When the sun hit the water, I vainly looked for the "green flash" optical phenomenon on its top rim. I have seen it three times, twice in Hawaii and once last summer on Grand Isle.
The barrier island, Grand Isle, is one of a chain of such islands across south Louisiana that is not only the first line of protection against hurricanes and other storms and but also an important part of the various habitats that make up coastal Louisiana. Grand Isle is the only barrier island with a large permanent population. More on Grand Isle next journal.