Volume 4 - December 8, 2003

The Wonder of Wetlands

Wetlands are important, valuable areas we need for a balanced environment. There are waterlogged places all over our world that we label "wetlands." Issues about these places are popping up everywhere, in newspapers, on television, and on bumper stickers that show: "Save the Wetlands" and "No Wetlands, No Future!" What is all the fuss about? Aren't wetlands just bug infested, swampy, smelly, muddy wastelands? Many people throughout history have thought so. But fortunately people now realize and appreciate the value of these natural habitats.


Wetlands have been dredged, drained, built upon, used as trash dumps, and filled in for human habitation. In recent times, efforts to save, conserve, and restore these areas have been in full swing. Close to home, some research already has been done on the Florida Everglades, where they are spending millions of dollars to restore lost wetland habitats. The Red River Wetland Coalition in north Louisiana is busy protecting Bodcau Bayou, Loggy Bayou, and the Cannisnia Lake wetland habitats.


What is a wetland? Of course, it is wet land! Low lying areas between dry land and waterways are many times wetlands. Common types of wetlands are swamps, bogs, and marshes. There is a world of names for different types of wetlands: mire, fen, moor, prairie pothole, muskeg, slough, bottomland, playa lake, riparian wetland, and more! What makes all these areas wetlands is lots of water, special soil, and specialized plant life. From mangrove swamps to hardwood bottomlands, these three characteristics vary quite a bit.


The water can be fresh, salty, or brackish. Wetlands can be any shape or size, and they can be coastal or inland. They also can be seasonally wet, sometimes flooded, or always wet.


The soil is special in a wetland because of the abundance of water. The soil is saturated with it, so it is anaerobic (lacks oxygen). This is called hydric soil.


Special plant life lives in wetland habitats. Plants adapted to wet conditions are called hydrophytesAdaptation helps specialized plants grow where there is little oxygen. Trees adapt to the soggy situation with features such as knees (root systems that poke above the water's surface) and buttresses or swollen bases that help to aerate the trees. Thus, we will study trees that look like bell bottom jeans!

Wading into Wetlands
by Ranger Rick's Naturescope series explains that wetlands give our world many valuable "FREE SERVICES."


1.  FLOOD BUSTERS: wetlands that help to control flooding like giant
     shallow bowls where flood waters drain into. When man fills a wetland
     area with concrete for neighborhood streets, houses, and shopping
     centers, where do you think all the flood waters go? 


2.  SILT TRAPPERS: wetlands and wetland plants that trap sediment and 
     pollutants that are washed or flooded off of land. Caught in the
     wetlands, these impurities are trapped and filtered so they will not
     pollute rivers, streams, and groundwater.


3.  STORM BREAKERS: wetlands that take punishment during storms.
      Areas shielded by a wetland are more protected. This is especially 
     true  in coastal areas where barrier islands protect the mainland from
     high waves during ocean storms.


4. WILDLIFE WONDERS: Some say that in a healthy wetland habitat there
    is more life acre for acre than any other type of habitat on earth.
    Wetlands provide habitat for fish, birds, and many mammals. About 
   35% of all endangered or threatened species spend some phase of 
   their life in a wetland: wood storks, snail kites, whooping cranes, 
   and American alligators, to name just a few!


5. NURSERIES: many types of fish, crabs, shrimp, and other creatures
    spend their early life in a wetland habitat before moving out into open


6.  MIGRATION CELEBRATION: Migrating birds by the thousands use the
     wetlands as a "refueling" and resting place. Spring and fall find ducks,
     geese, egrets, sandpipers, plovers, ospreys, eagles, and more 
     seeking what they need to continue their journeys.

Boy, it is hard to stop talking about the wetland habitats! We have many more lessons to come. Please notice the scenes across the top of The Coastal Correspondent! CC likes to explain Louisiana's coastal wetlands by dividing them into 5 five interlocking habitats. The fringe, marsh, bays, barrier islands, and the deep blue (gulf) are his divisions. As we travel we will learn more about those particular areas.
Happy Holiday Time!

Pirates and Peckers

While walking down the boardwalk at the Jean Lafitte Nature Education Center in Lafitte, Louisiana, I spotted two large birds with red crests on their heads. I pointed, and CC snapped a photo! These birds were as large as crows, and they were busy pecking on the top of a big dead tree. CC called them pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus). These birds cry "KIK-KIKKIK-KIK-KIK" and have long sticky tongues that can reach for insects inside trees for food. Pileated woodpeckers have strong toes that help them expertly climb trees. Stiff tail feathers brace the bird against a tree as it drills into the bark.

The beautiful pileated woodpecker male is often mistaken for the ivory-billed woodpecker, which once thrived in our swampy Louisiana forests. Logging destroyed the ivory-billed woodpecker's habitat, and it is feared to be extinct. Both of these woodpeckers are large with lovely red crests on their heads. 

Visiting the town named for the pirate Jean Lafitte was awesome. Jean Lafitte was important in Louisiana history during the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park is just below New Orleans. We stayed at a great bed and breakfast called Victoria Inn and Gardens. I got to sleep with the three friendly dalmations that live with their humans on the Bayou Barataria at Victoria Inn.

            I would definitely get my parents to take me to Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and the Barataria Preserve. There are wonderful hiking trails and miles of waterways and bayous to explore and smell. Nice park rangers give tours, and you can rent a canoe or take a commercial swamp tour.  Look for this place on your Louisiana map along Highway 45 south of New Orleans. It is a great SPOT!!!! (Get it??? Dalmations……Spots!)

Wagging my tail in the wetlands, I am yours truly!
    Annie the M.U.T.T. of the Marsh


- Wetland habitats are very valuable, and people are working to save and restore them.
- Wetlands help with water quality, flood control, storm damage, and wildlife preservation on our earth.
Find the meanings of cool words like tributary, sediment, or amphibian and many more...
Click Here!
1. Copy this quote by Aldo Leopold from A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC .


Discuss it with your class and think of his meaning!

Click here to find sources of more great information!
la·gniappe    (ln-yp, lnyp)
2. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

Get painting & photo tips and much more, click here!
Alice Harte Elementary School asks:
How are you all dealing with the changes in weather as you move south?  Has it been an issue, and what have been the two extremes in degrees so far?

CC answers:  It has mainly been cold with a few days of rain and high winds.  Before we finish we will experience all kinds of weather.  So far, we have experiences temperatures as low as 20 degrees and as high as 80 degrees.
Audubon Elementary asks:

What encouraged you to explore Louisiana swamps?

CC answers:  I love to explore wetlands and this is a critical time to do so because 24 square miles of marsh are disappearing each year.
Grace Episcopal School asks:
When do you think you will get to the end?  P.S. - pet Annie for us...we love reading her column!
Sue answers:  We plan on finishing sometime next fall.  I love Annie too!
L.J. Alleman Middle School asks:
When you take a picture of things in the wetlands, do you have to stand up inside of the water and has anything ever attacked you or your camera?
CC answers:  One night I stepped on an alligator while wading in the swamp in search of frogs.  You can read about that night on this web page:
Phoenix Magnet Elementary asks:
Have you ever encountered any unidentified plant or animal in the wetlands; if not, what is the most unusual plant or animal you have observed?
CC answers:  When I see a plant or animal I have not seen before I try to look it up and find out what it is.  Sometimes I have to get a biologist at LSU to help me.
Southfield School asks:
Why is this a good time of the year to make your trip?
Sue answers:  We are trying to be out here all four seasons.  Each season has wonders we want to see, learn about, and photograph.
St. Mary's Nativity School asks:
Could you give us some specifics on the location of the Atchafalaya Basin--it's boundaries, etc.?
CC answers:  The Atchafalaya River begins at the Old River Control structure north of Simmesport, Louisiana and ends in the Gulf of Mexico south of Morgan City, Louisiana.  It is about 18 miles wide and contains about 1.4 million acres.
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