Volume 10 - January 26, 2004
Seagulls resting and feeding on the beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Coastal Ponderings

A fish Otolith or ear bone, shown here, is used by biologists to determine a fishes age.

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!

Do you knows about the Bottle-Nose?

A bottle-nose dolphin dancing in Barataria Pass.



The Bottle-nose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) occurs commonly in the waters along the coast of Louisiana. This critter is also seen in our state’s inshore waters. Dolphin sightings have been reported in the Mississippi River as far up as New Orleans! Favorite hangouts for dolphins are the deep water passes between the back bays and the Gulf. Dolphins, or porpoises as they are many times called, weigh between 300 and 600 pounds and live in groups called pods.




CC, Sue and I sat for many sunsets on the shores of Barataria Pass and watched the free dolphin show! We saw dolphins leaping, flipping, and splashing around in magical movements. Dolphins in the bow waves of large boat “surfing” away! I wanted to swim too, but the pass is over 160 feet deep in places and my humans would not allow me to go in. Once, as we crossed the pass in our dinghy it was particularly rough seas. My human, Sue, was doing a bit of screaming because of the really bumpy ride. We suddenly realized that our boat was being escorted by five sweet dolphins! We considered them our safety patrol! Back at our houseboat, we daily watch for a graceful mother and baby dolphin to make their fishing rounds each morning about 7:30 like clockwork!




A mother dolphin is pregnant for at least twelve months and the mammal babies are over three feet long at birth! Immediately the expert swimmer rises to the water’s surface to breathe. The baby dolphin then begins drinking milk from its mother’s mammary glands and it will continue to nurse for over one year.




After a month or so of life very close to mother, the baby dolphin begins to scamper away to frolic and play. When mother finds the youngster missing she begins to whistle calls until her baby returns to her. The whistling sounds emitted by the mother are recognized by the baby, just as you know your mother’s voice! Dolphins also use echolocation- high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects. This helps them find food in muddy water. They also communicate with each other using squeaks and whistles, and body language such as slapping their tails and jumping out of the water. Dolphins have been known to cooperate and help each other in times of need. Adult dolphins have been seen assisting an ailing adult or baby to the water’s surface to help them breathe if they are in distress!




I love these playful, smart creatures! They are like underwater torpedoes speeding by our boat and then leaping into the air performing super stunts. Do some reading on Bottle-nosed dolphins and learn more about their habits and abilities. Dolphins are dynamic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From the Louisiana coastline I am Annie your Canine reporter!

- Louisiana’s mainland needs barrier islands for protection.
- Dolphins are intelligent, playful creatures whose habitat includes coastal marshes and the Gulf near our barrier islands.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
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1. We need barrier islands to protect the mainland of Louisiana. Cities such as New Orleans are very vulnerable! Write a short paragraph describing something that protects you. Is it sunscreen, seatbelts, or soccer shin-guards? Write about a thing you use for your own personal protection and how it helps you.

2.Remember that you can archive back and read earlier Coastal Correspondent Newsletters by using the drop down arrow at the top of this page. Also, do not miss CC and Rhea’s Journals! Go back to the homepage and click on Journal.

Go to this site and click on Grand Isle State Park east. Try to talk your parents into bringing you to this great Louisiana destination! Don’t forget to bring your tent, bike, and dog! You can even park your car on the beach by your tent!
Click here to find sources of more great information!
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L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
How do you tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile and do we have both of these in the marshes of Louisiana?
CC answers:  In Louisiana we only hav ethe American alligator.  Florida has a small population of the endangered American Crocodile.  One difference is crocodiles are more tropical, thus cannot live as far north as alligators. View the 23 species of crocodilians at
Southern University Laboratory School asks:
As you know we have a new Governor in our state.  What are her thoughts about this critical Marshland lost to Louisiana?
CC answers:  An interview int eh Times-Picayune yesterday said our new Governor has written the President asking for money in the Federal budget to help repair Louisiana's marsh.  I think governor Blanco will fight to save the coast.  Hopefully she will visit the Wetland Wanderer so we can interview her.
St. Mary's Nativity School asks:
How can you tell the differnce bwtween a female cormorant and a male one?
CC answers:  It is very difficult to distinguish between a male and female cormorant by looks.  In fact, they are almost indistinguishable.  Immature cormorants are a light brown color and become solid black once they reach adulthood and their nesting area is called a rookery.
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