Barrier Islands are like fences protecting valuable property!
Using Grand Isle as the Wanderers home base we have ventured out to many barrier islands on our small Boston Whaler boat. Our travels have offered many learning experiences. For instance, have you ever wondered about the age of a fish you caught? Biologist on the island of Grand Terre working for Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries can tell you the age of a fish and many other things about a species by slicing and studying sections of the fishes otolith, or ear bone! A fish’s ear helps with balance, direction, and vibration. Fish have three pairs of ear bones, the largest set being the sagitta. Using special drills, saws, and microscopes the ear bone is sliced and studied. The otolith has rings like the rings on a tree’s trunk which reveal the number of years a fish has lived. Otolith from fish caught in the Gulf and the back bays of Louisiana tell biologist many things about a species of fish. This information is shared with LSU and other coastal agencies and more research is done. Amazing!
Many of the barrier islands we have visited were formed by the powerful meanderings of the mighty Mississippi River. Grand Isle was a sandbar connected to the mainland marshes of Louisiana. When the Mississippi changed to its present course 600 years ago, portions of the land eroded away cutting off Grand Isle from the mainland. Now that the Mississippi is controlled by man no new barrier islands are forming. Therefore we must protect the existing ones!
The shape of barrier islands is constantly changed by continual action of wind and waves. Hurricanes also dramatically affect barrier islands.
In the 1700’s Grand Isle was probably visited by bands of Indian hunters who may have dropped acorns that formed the oak ridge of forest that is very important to Grand Isle.
In the 1800’s Grand Isle had four large sugar plantations. Fort Livingston, Louisiana’s only coastal fort was built on the neighboring island of Grand Terre. Neither survived, and after the Civil War small farms spread over the island. Farmers would bring their vegetables by boat to the bustling farmers market in New Orleans.
In the late 1800’s Grand Isle had fancy hotels and old plantation cottages that tourist enjoyed. People came by steamer to escape the heat and yellow fever of the big cities. The island paradise was hit without warning by a deadly hurricane in 1893. This hurricane killed nearly 2000 people and all the plantation cottages and hotels were destroyed.
The 1900’s brought many changes to Grand Isle. The oil and gas industry boomed and the sleepy barrier island became very busy! Today most business around Grand Isle consists of shrimpers and other fishing boats carrying their cargo to market. The ever-present offshore oil rigs dot the horizon extracting energy sources from below the Gulf waters for American consumption. Incidentally, these huge rig structures provide great offshore fishing spots!
Barrier Islands have close ties to the marshes directly behind them. These marshes support a huge amount of life. Some fences make me feel trapped, but our barrier islands are the protective fences our state needs!