by Tom Moorman Ph.D.
A third of Louisiana's coastal marsh is gone, and 50 more acres are lost each day. Can this crucial wintering ground be saved?
If North America is the land of plenty blessed with abundant natural resources, then Louisiana's coastal marsh is a strong candidate for capital. Shrimp and crabs grow there in greater abundance than anywhere else in North America.Fishermen from all over the continent travel to the Louisiana coast to pursue redfish, speckled trout, and flounder. And the marsh is a nursery for unfathomable numbers of less notable but equally important Gulf menhaden. These fish, along with shrimp and crabs, convert the rich supply of marsh plankton and detritus into animal tissue that becomes food for larger fish, birds, alligators, and humans. Indeed, Louisiana's coastal marsh is the source of 30 to 40 percent of the commercial seafood harvest in the United States.
But the marshes also provide habitat for tremendous populations of birds, including herons, egrets, ibises and the spectacular roseate spoonbill, whose bright pink plumage contrasts starkly with the subtle greens and browns of the marsh. As for waterfowl, it is hard to overstate the importance of Louisiana's coastal marsh to North America's ducks and geese.
The marsh provides crucial winter and migration habitat at the southern confluence of the Mississippi and Central flyways. Picture a continental funnel where the left half is the Central Flyway and the right half, the Mississippi Flyway. Waterfowl from Ontario to Alberta, from Michigan to Montana, migrate down the funnel and pour into Louisiana's coastal marshes, where they find a smorgasbord of submerged aquatic vegetation, seeds, tubers, and invertebrates on which to feed during winter.
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan's Gulf Coast Joint Venture recognizes the Louisiana coastal marsh as a top priority for conservation of waterfowl. Likewise, Ducks Unlimited's International Conservation Plan identifies the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas as one of five highest-priority regions. The goal of the Gulf Coast Joint Venture is to provide migration and winter habitat to support 13.7 million ducks. Some 9.2 million of those birds use Louisiana coastal habitats, including substantial proportions of the continental populations of gadwalls, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, northern pintails, lesser scaup, and mottled ducks.