Louisiana Wetlands

Losing our Coast

The Rise and Disappearance of Southeast Louisiana

On the east side of Louisiana, coastal wetlands inter-grade with long leaf pine savannas, which support many rare and unusual species such as pitcher plants and gopher tortoises.On the western side, they inter-grade with wet prairies, an ecosystem type that was once vast, and now has been all but eliminated. The larger vertebrate fauna such as wolves and bison was exterminated. The eastern coastline of Louisiana is much more susceptible to erosion than the western coastline because much of the eastern coastline was created by silt deposits from the Mississippi River.


Physiography of Louisiana

Coastal Louisiana embraces one of the most wetland-rich regions of the world, with 2.5 million acres of marshes (fresh, brackish, and saline) and 637,400 acres of forested wetlands. It contains about 40 percent of the coastal marshes in the coterminous United States. Wetlands border the entire Gulf of Mexico shoreline and extend inland more than 60 miles in some places. Coastal Louisiana's wetlands are bordered and interspersed with 1.8 million acres of ponds and lakes, 2.2 million acres of bays and sounds, and 8,200 miles of navigation, drainage, and petroleum access canals. Two physio-graphic units comprise the area: the Deltaic Plain on the east, formed by sediments from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers and the Chenier Plain on the west, formed by sediments from ocean currents.

Log Paradise and Putting Up Parking Lots

Similarly, the space between the northern fringes of the French Quarter in New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain was also once a vast cypress and tupelo swamp. Around the same time that the wetlands I’ve just described were being stripped of their cypress (between 1895 and 1920), the city’s northern cypress barrier was turned into lumber, the land was “reclaimed” as a potential residential district through the strategic placement of new drainage canals, and our current metropolitan footprint was established.

Losing It

Some of the most striking—and depressing—visual images I have seen of the wetlands surrounding New Orleans are satellite photos taken of the areas on the northwest shores of Lake Pontchartrain that were once cypress and tupelo swamps. The ancient cypresses with their flying buttress knees made a formidable barrier that protected lakeside towns from devastating storm and hurricane surges.