The southernmost reaches and mouth of the Mississippi River are tourist attractions that annually draw many hundreds of visitors to Plaquemines Parish. While people visit for lots of different reasons, many go there because this area is truly a sportsman's paradise. Some of the better commercial and sport fishing in the world starts in the local marinas with their many charter fishing boats and guides.
Our son, David, has fished and hunted in this verdant, deltaic, marshland area for quite a few years. I don't recall his ever not being there for the duck season opening day. No matter how hard I try to convince him that (with respect to his home in Baton Rouge and his using a small boat) many other areas of coastal Louisiana are much easier to get to and safer to be in than toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, he has remained undaunted and has always returned. This is one region where eager anglers can find salt and freshwater fish species in the nearby Gulf of Mexico and inland brackish estuaries, respectively.
In early July my husband, Leon, and I joined our son for a long weekend in the town of Empire, about 25 river miles short of the river passes, in hopes of being able to restock our freezer with delectable speckled trout and redfish. After high winds spoiled our great expectations for a productive fishing venture, we decided to settle into the tropical trade wind flow, kick back, and explore more of the parish by boat and car.
David mentioned that each year he acquires new satellite photo imagery of the area to facilitate his duck blind site selecting for the upcoming hunting season. On current photographs he pointed out the many places where he once could walk on dry land that are now under water. The annual land loss rate is alarmingly shocking.
Many of those open water areas that were formerly dry land are now "smothered" by a green and purple blanket of invasive water hyacinth. Although its purple flowers are quite lovely, the plant grows rapidly and densely, and it clogs up waterways. This aquatic plant (originally from South America) was first introduced into Louisiana in 1884 at the World Industrial Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. As gifts of the Japanese Exhibit, initially they found their way into residential water gardens. Eventually some of the plants were discarded into south Louisiana's bayous and other waterways, spread rapidly, and became quite a problem to control. While I enjoyed the blossom petal display of vivid color, I debated whether or not the flowers of this notorious plant should make their way into one of my paintings.
Meanwhile, Plaquemines Parish contains almost 14% of America's total wetlands. This political entity is not only a huge part of the Mississippi River delta but also a southern terminus of the migrating bird Central and Mississippi flyways that annually bring over a million ducks and geese from the prairies and plains of the north-central United States and Canada to the Louisiana coastal marsh to feed, rest, and winter. This area is also an important stopping off and resting-refueling place for other waterfowl and songbirds migrating to and from winter habitats in Latin America. Of course, waterfowl hunting in this area matches the excitement of sport fishing. Non-hunters, mostly birdwatchers from across the United States, are also attracted to this verdant, deltaic area by the exceptionally numerous species of birdlife that are easily viewed in a natural habitat.
As we packed up and headed for home on the higher land of Baton Rouge, I could not help but wonder and worry about the uncertain and perilous future of this unique part of Louisiana, where so much land has already been lost and remains in jeopardy.