“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece…the whole universe will get busted”.
(Hushpuppy – Beasts of the Southern Wild)
The movie Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) portraits a story of a six-year-old Hushpuppy and her unhealthy, hot-tempered father, Wink, who are optimistic about their life and their future as a storm approaches a southern Louisiana bayou community called the “Bathtub” (a community cut off from the rest of the world by a levee).
It’s interesting that the movie points out that despite the circumstances of the characters, there is still hope. Hope that one day their life and future will be better.
The movie reminded me of the hurricane Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Katrina’s disastrous flooding of the Gulf Coast confirmed three decades of warnings by scientists. Most of New Orleans is below sea level, and South Louisiana’s coastal wetlands (where the movie takes place), which once helped buffer the city from giant storms, have been disappearing at a spectacularly fast pace.
One of the causes of Katrina’s catastrophe was wetland loss. An average of 34 square miles of South Louisiana land, mostly marsh, has disappeared each year for the past five decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). As much as 80% of the nation’s coastal wetland loss in this time occurred in Louisiana. From 1932 to 2000, the state lost 1,900 square miles of land to the Gulf of Mexico. By 2050, if nothing is done to stop this process, the state could lose another 700 square miles, and one-third of 1930s coastal Louisiana will have vanished. Importantly, New Orleans and surrounding areas will become ever more vulnerable to future storms. Craig E. Colten, a geographer at Louisiana State University (LSU) (1), on a report about Louisiana’s wetlands once said:
“New Orleans can’t be restored unless we also address coastal and wetland restoration too.”
Another cause was building and maintaining levees and dams along the Mississippi River also leading to wetland loss. Another geographically widespread cause was voracious grazing by nutria, a nonnative species, which destroyed wetland vegetation (1).
Lastly, but not least important, activities by the oil and gas industry is another cause. Peaking during the 1960s through the 1980s, oil and gas companies dredged canals for exploration. There are currently 10 major navigation canals and 9,300 miles of pipelines in coastal Louisiana serving about 50,000 oil and gas production facilities. These canals, which are perpendicular to the coast, have created new open water areas, drowning wetlands and allowing salt-water intrusion into freshwater ecosystems. The result—land loss hot spots.
Further land loss would also endanger oil and gas facilities, the huge port complex, and the gulf’s valuable fishing industry. South Louisiana’s wetlands are critical nursery areas for commercially important marine species, including shrimp, blue crabs, oysters, redfish, and menhaden.
In the last few years some researchers have been calling for restoration of wetlands and barrier islands to help protect New Orleans the next time a hurricane strikes.
So why are wetlands important?
Wetlands are essential for humans to live and prosper. They provide freshwater and ensure our food supply. They help sustain the wide variety of life on our planet, protect our coastlines, provide natural sponges against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.
If the wetlands in the state of Louisiana were protected, Katrina would have had a different impact. It has taken a major hurricane to show the nation that it’s necessary to rebuild the wetlands and barrier islands of Louisiana.
The goods news is that 10 years later after Katrina (last August of 2015), efforts have been taken to address those issues. Wetlands restoration projects have been in the agenda (2).
I hope that one day all wetlands around the world can be restored with the same hope the six-year-old Hushpuppy had in the movie about her life and future even in the face of storm. The hope that the Bible in Romans 8:19-22 that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
If you want to find out more about wetlands and how to help, see further information at http://www.worldwetlandsday.org
(1) Tibbetts, J. (2006). Louisiana’s wetlands: A lesson in nature appreciation. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(1), A40.(2)http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/10-years-after-katrina-louisiana-is-becoming-a-model-for-climate-resilience_55d53afee4b07addcb4586aa