Day 12 – November 14

November 16th, 2009 by luce09
          It’s 10 AM, and we’re speeding over the waters of the Intracoastal Canal in Dean Wilson’s flat-bottomed outboard boat. Dean’s German Shepherd, Shanka, is balanced on the edge with her nose flush to the wind and ears pushed back. Already, this is no ordinary morning. The Intercoastal Canal runs 3,000 miles along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Florida and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. This section of the canal is part of the Atchafalaya River, and Dean is the Atchafalaya Basin Keeper. As part of the Water Keepers Alliance, Dean is entrusted with leading efforts to protect the Atchafalaya Basin and its diverse ecosystems. 
One Luce group prepares to go out to the swamp with Dean Wilson.

One Luce group prepares to go out to the swamp with Dean Wilson.

Dean Wilson and his first mate.

Dean Wilson and his first mate.

             We exit the main river channel via a canal and find ourselves drifting slowly through a surreal world. Spanish moss hangs lazily from the branches of cypress trees, and water bugs and mosquitoes skirt the surface of the water, colored green by a thin mat of the invasive Salvinia and the native duckweed plants.

Cypress and tupelo tree swamp.  Note how the surface of the water is covered with Salvinia and duckweed.

Cypress and tupelo tree swamp. Note how the surface of the water is covered with Salvinia and duckweed.

            Cutting our motor in the midst of the swamp, Dean stands on the bow of the boat and explains that these areas are threatened by the further logging of cypress and tupelo trees. Historically, over 2 million acres of healthy cypress swamp existed in Louisiana whereas today only 800,000 acres of second-growth forest remain. Motioning skyward with his hands, Dean explains to us that 150 years ago this swamp would have been dark, shielded from the sun by a dense forest canopy. Hearing him speak, I can almost see the landscape he depicts, unmarked by crosscut saws and pull boats that carried hundreds of thousands of logs away to fuel a burgeoning economy.

             Today, these swamps are one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems due to annual fluctuations in water levels that provide a wide range of habitats.   They are dominated by two swamp tree species:  cypress and tupelo.  Many species of birds and fish, as well as otter, alligators, mink, and crawfish find their homes here. As we continue our passage through the swamp, we spot bald eagles, great blue herons, tricolored herons, black-crowned night herons, lizards, and a very large barred owl that stares silently at us from a nearby branch. Perhaps the most moving experience of the day comes when we visit an old-growth cypress tree. Burned hollow by lightning but still very much alive, the tree may be two thousand years old, and its wide girth holds witness to its ancient origins. The lightning saved the tree from the loggers and so it still stands today.  We gather a few seed pods from the tree’s branches and hold them lightly in our hands. A surge of hope courses through me, and I am thankful that at least this much of the forest is here. 

The ancient cypress tree.

The ancient cypress tree.

            Always present during our time here, however, is the understanding that, as Dean says, “we are very close to losing this forever.” Because most sections of cypress swamps are owned privately, there is a constant pressure to initiate new logging projects. In the last few decades, several companies formed a business around the use of cypress trees for mulch products. Due to this development, the Save Our Cypress Coalition was formed, which actively contacted major retailers, including Home Depot, Lowes, and Walmart, in order to prevent the logging of cypress trees for this use. At great personal risk, the members of the Coalition successfully stopped all cypress logging in Coastal Louisiana. Dean is modest about these achievements and reminds us that the fight to protect wild places is a constant one. State enforcement of cypress logging regulations is very weak, and Dean and others must act as watchdogs for the state in order to prevent illegal activity. 

             I am also reminded in this swamp, as I have been numerous times in the past two weeks, that we as humans are inseparably linked to our environments. There is something about wild places that allows us to distill our abundant wisdom into a few drops of truth. And I know now, more than ever, that I am not willing to trade that ancient cypress tree, or the bald eagles, or Louisiana’s wetlands, or mountaintops in West Virginia simply to preserve a way of life that is based on the acquisition of more and more things. Despite the fact that I may never revisit Louisiana (though I fully expect to do so), I believe strongly that this place, and so many others, are worth saving.

Canopy of the cypress-tupelo swamp.  Notice the Spanish moss, an aerophyte.

Canopy of the cypress-tupelo swamp. Notice the Spanish moss, an aerophyte, which derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain.

 

           Back at the Blue Moon Guesthouse for the night after a rewarding day, we are treated to a live performance by Troy Richard and the Richard Revue, a fantastic southern rock band. The back porch is packed with a vibrant cast of characters and couples moving in broken circles around the dance floor. The warm throb of the music seems to lift up the roof, and a palpable feeling of joy and excitement permeates everything.

Kerri enjoys dancing at the Blue Moon.

Kerri enjoys dancing at the Blue Moon.

            Standing to the side with a group of close friends, I watch Breanna and Kirsten spin on the dance floor and a line from an old Hopi Indian poem comes to mind: “It is time to create your community. Be good to each other. Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and vocabulary. Everything now must be done in a sacred manner… and in celebration.”

 Katie Panek

Day 11 – November 13

November 15th, 2009 by luce09

               This morning we awoke to our last 7 AM LUMCON breakfast and started our day by packing up our bunks and saying goodbye to the folks at LUMCON before hitting the road to Lafayette.  We were all bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and bubbling over with excitement to experience Lafayette and the Blue Moon Guesthouse.  However, before we could kick back at the Blue Moon, we stopped for a tour of the Mr. Charlie Oil Rig Museum and a presentation by a representative of Shell Pipeline Company in Morgan City.

               On the way to Morgan City, we took a detour through the city of Houma, gazed at the cypress swamps from elevated highways, witnessed sugarcane fields burning post-harvest, and got our first good look at the Atchafalaya River Basin.  The elevated highways are relatively frequent in this part of Louisiana, and allow travelers to pass over the swamps rather than building less stable roadways through the swamps. The practice of burning sugarcane fields after the harvest is conducted to return nutrients to the soil, but is controversial because of the air pollution it releases.

               After some miscommunications with the GPS system and a few turn-arounds, we arrived at the Mr. Charlie Oil Rig Museum in Morgan City.  Our first meeting of the day was a tour from Mr. Virgil Allen, who explained to us the history of the oil rig and its present function.  The Mr. Charlie oil rig was the first oil rig in the Gulf coast and was operating during the 1950s, but is presently retired and used to train crews headed to offshore rigs.  The rig is meant to prepare them for the physical work involved on oil rigs, for the safety protocols, and for the task of living in close quarters with the crew.  Mr. Allen explained to us how the first moveable and reusable oil rigs came about, and how they evolved to be stable in water depths from 40 feet to 1,200 feet.  Today, floating oil rigs can be placed in water as deep as 12,000 feet.  The focus of the tour was the function of the rig and the lifestyle of crew members who live on oil rigs.  The rig work includes various jobs, from drilling and maintenance to office work and housekeeping; the period of time one spends on an offshore rig varies from 2 weeks to 4 weeks, with a comparable period of time onshore.  The pay is generally 10-15% more for offshore jobs than for an equivalent job onshore.  We also experienced the lifestyle of the crew personally by eating lunch in the dining hall of the oil rig.

Virgil Allen explains to us how the drilling system aboard the Mr. Charlie oil rig works.

Virgil Allen explains to us how the drilling system aboard the Mr. Charlie oil rig works.

Students line up for a hearty lunch in the rig dining hall.

Students line up for a hearty lunch in the rig dining hall.

               On the tour with Mr. Allen, he explained to us what drilling mud is and how it is used.  Drilling mud is mud (either natural or synthetic) that is pumped into the drill hole to fill open spaces created by the drill and to remove cuttings and shavings from the drilled hole.  This keeps the drilling area clean, lubricates the drill bit, and stabilizes the area drilled.  This idea, however, raised some questions among the Lucers about the disposal of hazardous mud because the mud can contain chemicals and can bring radioactive rock bits out of the ground.

               Our second meeting upon Mr. Charlie was with Mr. Ed Landgraf of Shell Pipeline Company.  Mr. Landgraf explained to us how pipelines are used to transport oil from where it is drilled to a refinery or storage area before it is used as fuel or as a chemical feedstock.  He also gave us some statistics on the role of oil in Louisiana: Louisiana produces 25-30% of all energy consumed in the United States, Louisiana contains 17 oil refineries in the state (because of their proximity to the oil source in the Gulf of Mexico), and over 2.5 million barrels of oil flow through Louisiana each day.  Mr. Landgraf then got down to discussing the topic of land loss in Louisiana, particularly of marsh land, and maintained that land loss is due mostly to sediment deprivation and the natural subsidence of the land in the delta region.  This sparked some debate between students and Mr. Landgraf because of our readings  mentioning the extraction of oil and gas causing subsidence and the fragmentation of wetlands caused by digging canals for the movement of oil and gas.  That is, some of our readings maintain that the  oil and gas industries significantly contribute to the loss of land in coastal Louisiana.  Some students also protested to him about the responsibility that oil companies such as Shell have to restore the channels that they create in the wetlands to help restore the overall condition of coastal Louisiana.  Mr. Landgraf stated that companies lease the land from private owners to create the channels, making the landowners responsible for the land after the lease while students argued that oil companies should be responsible for the channels they create.  Overall, the presentations by Mr. Allen and Mr. Landgraf sparked a great amount of discussion, creating an atmosphere alive with the passions of two opposing perspectives regarding the role of oil companies in Louisiana’s land loss and in the future energy mix in the US, and both representatives handled our questions with an immense amount of poise.

Ed Landgraf of Shell Pipeline describes the need for pipelines and demonstrates how oil spills and accidents can occur from third party damage to pipelines, such as the damaged segment he holds here.

Ed Landgraf of Shell Pipeline describes the need for pipelines and demonstrates how oil spills and accidents can occur from third party damage to pipelines, such as the damaged segment he holds here.

               After leaving Morgan City, with questions of industry and oil still burning in many of our minds, we headed to Lafayette, picking up the last member of our group, Professor Greg Howard, on the way.

Alex and Carrie greet Professor Howard, AKA “Uncle Howard”, at the Lafayette airport.

Alex and Carrie greet Professor Howard, AKA “Uncle Howard”, at the Lafayette airport.

Upon arriving in Lafayette, we settled into the Blue Moon and kicked back to some live Cajun music by the Grammy Award nominee band, Pine Leaf Boys, and some wonderful dancing with the local residents.  Though a few of us have a long way to go before we can master the two-step, I think it’s safe to say we’re all excited to be here and are anxiously awaiting what this next leg of our journey will bring.

A guitarist of the Pine Leaf Boys jams for an excited crowd.

A guitarist of the Pine Leaf Boys jams for an excited crowd.

Students and locals alike practice their two-stepping, mainly with the local dancers showing us how it’s done.

Students and locals alike practice their two-stepping, mainly with the local dancers showing us how it’s done.

Katelyn Repash

Day 10 – November 12

November 14th, 2009 by luce09
On this our last full day at LUMCON (the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium along Bayou Petite Caillou in Cocodrie), we experienced all the intricacies of coastal research, from the boat to the lab to the lecture hall, and from the marshes’ simple beauty to the complexities of restoration.  We woke up for the usual 7:00 AM breakfast of grits, eggs, biscuits, or cereal, with painfully sore legs from planting 4900 pots of marsh grasses in Port Fourchon the day before; but by 8:00 AM, we were eager to board the smaller of LUMCON’s research vessels, the Acadiana, manned by Captain Carl Sevin and Van Domangue, Cajuns and former crabbers and shrimpers from the area, and with Nicole Cotton as our research guide.  Nicole Cotton, who also grew up in the area of Petite Caillou, received her undergraduate degree in Biology, with a concentration in Marine Sciences, from nearby Nicholls State University and her masters in Fisheries Biology, and is one of the chief educators at LUMCON. 

 

The Research Vessel Acadiana.

The Research Vessel Acadiana.

Our journey on the Acadiana took us through the Houma Navigation Channel to Terrebonne Bay, all under a sunny, clear blue sky with a light breeze.  With the sun on our faces, we crowded at the front of the boat, binoculars in hand, and identified all of the birds that we saw, with the help of Prof. Wilderman.  It was simply incredible what we saw:  double crested cormorants flying solo and bobbing low in the water, green herons, white ibises, flocks of white pelicans, brown pelicans, snowy egrets, great white egrets, roseate spoonbills flying gracefully in the distance over the golden marsh grass, a bald eagle perched majestically on a bare tree branch, and gulls bobbing in the waves.  We even saw bottlenose dolphins leaping from the water alongside our boat!  All around us, was the beauty of the marsh; but we didn’t have to look far to see a gas flare from a distant oil well, several nearby signs marking the location of oil and gas pipelines, and the noticeable presence of open water that used to contain more marsh vegetation around the navigation channel. 

 

White pelicans bobbing in the waves and cormorants perched on the gas pipeline warning sign.

White pelicans bobbing in the waves and cormorants perched on the gas pipeline warning sign.

Shrimpers returning from a night of fishing.

Shrimpers returning from a night of fishing.

Once we reached Terrebonne Bay, we began our sampling.  Nicole, with the help of Carl and Van, demonstrated the use of a ponar dredge to sample benthic organisms and sediment.  We also used an otter trawl net to sample large, epibenthic organisms – such as shrimp, fish, squid, and jellyfish – and a plankton net to collect plankton – such as copepods, fish larvae, and crab larvae – from the top of the water column.  We all crowded around the sorting table, like gulls to a feast of fish, wanting to touch all the organisms we caught in our trawl net and not wanting to miss a word from Nicole as she identified each of the fish. 

2.)	Van Domangue demonstrating the ponar dredge on the Acadiana in Terrebonne Bay.

Van Domangue demonstrating the ponar dredge on the Acadiana in Terrebonne Bay.

1.)	Nicole Cotton holding up a moon jellyfish caught in our trawl net before throwing it back in the water.

Nicole Cotton holding up a moon jellyfish caught in our trawl net before throwing it back in the water.

Brown and white shrimp that we caught in our trawl net.

Brown and white shrimp that we caught in our trawl net.

A view of LUMCON from the water.

A view of LUMCON from the water.

Back in the lab at LUMCON, after a lunch of Cajun stew, Nicole explained the food chain of the bay, from phytoplankton and zooplankton to filter feeders and predators, and also taught us fish anatomy.  From there, we moved down the hall, to meet with Dr. Denise Reed, who fortunately was able to change her meeting on climate adaptation with President Obama’s staff to a phone conference, so that she could be here talk to us about restoration plans for coastal Louisiana.

Denise Reed, a geomophologist and Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans, is one of the leading scientists working on plans for Louisiana coastal restoration. Her presentation on restoring a sustainable coastal ecosystem in southern Louisiana added another dimension to our understanding of coastal restoration, different from that of Prof. Earl Melancon, the shellfish biologist we heard from on Tuesday who supports freshwater diversions only if they are managed to maintain current fisheries.  Denise Reed’s perspective on coastal restoration also dramatically differed from that of Kerry St. Pe, Director of Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, whom we met with yesterday and who supports the use of pipeline sediment techniques as a faster alternative to freshwater diversions for building marshland.  Unlike Earl Melancon and Kerry St. Pe, Denise Reed supports Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast developed in 2006, which contains as one of its goals the use of natural ecosystem processes to produce a sustainable coastal ecosystem that is self-organizing.  The Master Plan proposes a rerouting of the southern Mississippi River, before it reaches the Bird’s Foot Delta, into two areas of shallow water, using freshwater diversions.  This plan recognizes that not all of the marshland that has been lost can be regained, because dams along tributaries to the Mississippi River have decreased the sediment load in the river by 50%.  Denise also made the point that the productivity of fisheries will not be negatively affected, but their locations within the marsh will change.  This all connects back to the restoration objectives she proposed – that the ecosystem and all of the processes that sustain it need to be restored, and not just the presence of marshland.  Denise Reed’s presentation, after those by notable scientists from previous days, has made us realize just how difficult decisions are for the state in both creating and implementing restoration plans, since not all scientists can even agree on what should be done or what the goals should be.  All of them, including Denise, have made convincing arguments for their restoration proposals.

 

1.)	Denise Reed explaining the process of measuring land loss in Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

Denise Reed explaining the process of measuring land loss in Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

On a lighter note, after a traditional Louisiana fried seafood dinner, Carl Sevin, the Captain of the Acadiana, told us about his life and work, living off the land and the water as a Cajun and a fisherman in the local area.  Until foreign imports drove shrimp prices down and before working for LUMCON, Carl used to be a full time commercial fisherman – a shrimper during the summer months and an oysterman during the winter months.  He started working on his father’s boat at the age of fifteen and made it his living.  Seven days a week, rain or shine, the work was far from easy and because of the current shrimp market, he doesn’t want his two sons to take up commercial fishing.  But even still, in laid back Cajun fashion, he related tales and humorous anecdotes of alligator trapping using rotten meat, wrestling an alligator, and even stories about the antics of his pet mink.  The Cajun lifestyle is both grueling and enjoyable, full of back-breaking work and amusing memories; a lifestyle like no other, and one that relies on the health and resilience of Louisiana’s coastal marshland. 

Carl Sevin showing students the head of the longest alligator he ever killed (12 feet, 6 inches) while he tells one of his alligator hunting stories.

Carl Sevin showing students the head of the longest alligator he ever killed (12 feet, 6 inches) while he tells one of his alligator hunting stories.

 Gabrielle Ostermayer

Day 9 – November 11

November 14th, 2009 by luce09

Today Ms. Poule and Lulu, who provide us with meals at LUMCON, had gotten up earlier than usual to feed us before we headed out at 7 AM to Raceland, LA to meet with Kerry St. Pé.  Kerry St. Pé is the Director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP).  The Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary consists of 2.2 million acres of wetlands and marshes between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers.  It is one of 28 National Estuary Programs (NEP) in the US and they are all funded by Section 320 of the Clean Water Act.  To qualify as a NEP, there is a nomination process; both the national significance and the environmental vulnerability of the area must be demonstrated.

We arrived at a visitors center in Raceland to meet Kerry for the beginning of our long and active day discussing and actually working on coastal restoration.  As we waited for the visitors center to open we started our discussion outside on the grass with Kerry and his Media Coordinator, Shelley Sparks.  They gave us some background on BTNEP and fed us satsumas (orange-like fruit).  We were sitting along the edges of a cement path and on the grass, and all of a sudden I started to feel some bites on my hands and jumped up, with some ensuing expletives.  I had at least twenty fire ants on my hands, arms, ankle and lower back.  Kerry helped me get them off and then talked about invasive species for a minute while everyone was laughing as I took it all in stride.  In the long run, all the mosquito bites are more annoying than the fire ants.  We shortly moved inside and had a great presentation and discussion with Kerry about the issues facing the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary and what he believes to be the best technique for coastal restoration. 

Kerry St. Pé, with the assistance of Shelley Sparks, discusses wetland loss and restoration with us.

Kerry St. Pé, with the assistance of Shelley Sparks, discusses wetland loss and restoration with us.

Kerry is a proponent for the pumping of sediment slurry to form barrier islands and marshlands.  He does not believe that freshwater diversions are the best technique, nor are they a feasible short-term option.  He said that it took 7,000 years for the Louisiana wetlands and marshes to be formed, and that it would take twice as long now because the sediment load of the Mississippi River is half of what it had been, due to all the dams and locks along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  He believes we are out of time, and cannot wait for natural diversions to build land.  The only feasible solution, in his opinion, is to pump sediment to where it is needed now.

After our discussion, all 19 of us plus Kerry loaded up into our vans and took the “Tidwell Trail” along Bayou Petite Caillou down to Port Fourchon.  Over the summer we had read a book by Mike Tidwell who had hitch-hiked his way down different bayous and met different people from the different areas and talked with various experts on wetland loss and coastal restoration (Kerry included).  This was just one of the routes he had taken.  It was really exciting to actually see things we had read about in the book. 

After our lunch at Port Fourchon we met up with some BTNEP employees to get ready to plant grasses on a “ridge”  island that had been built by sediment slurry pumping.  After meeting Mel Landry, BTNEP’s Public and Volunteer Coordinator, we signed away our souls in exchange for neon green T-shirts and the chance to plant the grasses. T he other BTNEP employees we worked with were Richard Demay, the Senior Scientist at BTNEP, Dean Blanchard, the Habitat Enhancement Coordinator for BTNEP and Matt Benoit, the Plant Material Coordinator for BTNEP.  We loaded into two boats and sped our way through the marshes out to the island.  When we arrived we waded through the waters and split up into two groups to plant in different directions around the island.  There were two types of grass that we planted into pre-drilled holes along the beach of the island.  One grass,  Spartina patens, was planted closer to the water;  another grass, Paspalum  was planted above it.  Planting them at different proximities to the water was due to the different tolerances of the grasses to water.  On top of the ridge we planted bitter panicum (Panicum amarum).  In total, we planted 4,900 plants. 

Lucers get ready to do the job!

Lucers get ready to do the job!

Loading onto the boats for the trip to the ridge.

Loading onto the boats for the trip to the ridge.

Planting the ridge.

Planting the ridge.

Transporting the plants across the ridge.

Transporting the plants across the ridge.

Kerstin and Breanna take a moment to relax after planting grasses for the afternoon.

Kerstin and Breanna take a moment to relax after planting grasses for the afternoon.

 

After leaving the island we headed to Fourchon Beach where we were able to catch the tail end of the gorgeous sunset.  We were also able to see the oil platforms out in the Gulf of Mexico.  The number of them, and the knowledge that there were so many out of site, was a little numbing.  Not quite as numbing though as ALL OF THE MOSQUITOES!   They are terrible down here and we’ve all had our fair share of bites, but it comes with the territory.

Katelyn and Brendan go for a high-five in front of the sunset.

Katelyn and Brendan go for a high-five in front of the sunset.

We headed back to LUMCON with a stop to let out Kerry and another for dinner.  Kerry got back to his truck, “White Stallion.”  We went to dinner at one of the many commercial pizza restaurants, which isn’t why I’m including this.  One of the other patrons of this establishment finally asked “All you people in the green shirts, what exactly did you volunteer for?”  We explained about who we are and that we had planted grasses with Kerry St. Pé and were staying at LUMCON; he nodded and showed understanding of what we told him.  When we had finished our meal, the waitress brought out three chocolate desserts that we could all share nicely, and told us the man we had talked to had bought them for us.  We were so pleased and once more, amazed with the hospitality and kindness of the people we have met in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

We headed home to LUMCON happy and exhausted after a long day.

Evan Kendall

Day 8 – November 10

November 12th, 2009 by luce09
This morning we woke up bright and early to the beautiful sight of a flock of roseate spoonbills dining in the marsh while the sun shone on the golden marsh grass.  We think the flocks are so big because the storm is pushing them inland.  It was a nice to finally see the sun peeking through the clouds.
Flock of Roseate Spoonbills.

Flock of Roseate Spoonbills.

Today was oyster day. Our first stop was Motivatit, an oyster processing plant (http://www.motivatit.com).  Motivatit owns 15,000 acres of oyster reefs.  Technically Motivatit leases their land from the state, but since they have long-term leases, they treat the land as if they had ownership.  Oyster fishermen not only take oysters from the water, but also carefully prepare the grounds for future catches by breaking up attached oysters and returning them to the water and if necessary, by providing appropriate substrate materials.  This year Motivatit has 20 oyster boats working for them. Usually they have between 25 and 30 boats, but this year the harvest is low, due to excess freshwater.

Our tour guide was Greg Voisin. He is an eighth generation Louisiana resident. His family has been living on the land in Louisiana since the 17th century.  Greg started working in the processing plant at 13 years of age on the weekends and now he works on the business end of the company.  Greg’s grandfather revolutionized oystering by inventing a high pressure process to kill the bacterial pathogen, Vibril vinipricus, as well as bacteria that cause spoilage.  The high pressure process allows them to process three times more oysters and it qualifies as an FDA approved process.  One of their products, the Gold Band oyster won the American Culinary Institute’s best tasting oyster three years in a row. The highlights of the tour were seeing an oyster boat, observing the processing factory, and eating my very first oyster.  It actually wasn’t that bad.  We left Greg with a coffee mug and a business/blog card in order to get to LUMCON in time for lunch.

Greg Voisin talking about the history of his family.

Greg Voisin talking about the history of his family.

Oysters being shucked for meat at Motivatit.  After they have been pressure-steamed, the shucking process simply involves popping them open.

Oysters being shucked for meat at Motivatit. After they have been pressure-steamed, the shucking process simply involves popping them open.

 

After lunch we had the honor of being taught by the Oyster King himself, Earl Melancon.  Dr. Melancon is a professor of Biology at Nicholls State University and has spent his career studying oysters.  Before we tried our hand at oystering, Dr. Melancon gave us a brief history of oystering in LA.  He shared interesting facts like oystering is the second oldest managed fishery and that until about 1930 the LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was known as the Oyster Commission.  There are four distinct cultures involved in oyster farming: the immigrants from Yugoslavia, the Cajuns, the Canary islanders/Spaniards, and the Indians.

Dr. Melancon explaining the importance of a hatchet as a tool in oyster fishing.

Dr. Melancon explaining the importance of a hatchet as a tool in oyster fishing.

Since the water was moving so fast in the marsh (due to tidal effects from the tropical storm), we were told to try to get some oysters from the piers on the docks for examination.  We successfully harvested a whole bucket of intertidal oysters. They were really difficult to harvest because they had cemented themselves to the poles. We had to use tools and a lot of brute strength to pry them from their homes. Then we moved to a classroom where we discussed the anatomy, life cycle, and behavior of oysters while Dr. Melancon identified the parts of the live oysters on a TV screen. We even saw an oyster’s heart beating!

Harvesting oysters.

Harvesting oysters.

After a 15 minute break we went back to the classroom for a lecture and discussion with Dr. Melancon. First Dr. Melancon discussed the natural salinity gradients along the coast and how they vary over time. This variation makes it necessary for oyster farmers to lease land in a variety of salinity zones.  We talked about the conflict between the needs of fisheries and freshwater diversion, which is one of the leading solutions to provide sediment to build up the marsh.  Dr. Melancon is not in favor of complete freshwater diversion because it will destroy the salinity gradients along the coast that are critical to oyster farming.  He believes that the best solution is to support pipeline slurry sediment delivery and to use managed freshwater diversion, where flow from these structures will be regulated for the fisheries, allowing at least one oyster spawn per year. 

For dinner we had the famous boiled crab dinner prepared for us by Carl Sevin. We lined the tables with newspaper and laid the crabs down the middle of the table. The crabs were delicious and much sweeter than the Chesapeake crabs!

Chowing down on yummy Cajun-style boiled crabs!

Chowing down on yummy Cajun-style boiled crabs!

Everyone has an early night tonight because we have to wake up at 6 AM tomorrow. Yikes! 

Carrie Evans

Day 7 – November 9

November 12th, 2009 by luce09

Today, we woke, relieved that our drive down to LA was finally over. There will not be many days of heavy driving to worry about until we begin our trek back North. At our first 7:00 AM breakfast at LUMCON, we found that high tide had flooded the volleyball court and various areas surrounding the building over night. The impending tropical storm prevented us from being able to go out in boats to see the barrier island, even though it looked as though the Hurricane was going to hit east of us. On the bright side, the tempestuous weather drove flocks of birds towards the shore and we woke up to admire Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, and Brown Pelicans outside our windows.

Roseate Spoonbills were driven inland by the weather.

Roseate Spoonbills were driven inland by the weather.Photo by Kerri Oddenino

After a brief after-breakfast R&R, we had a lecture by Dr. Patrick Hesp, Chair of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University, a native of New Zealand who studies coastal geomorphology, aeolian geomorphology and dune dynamics, and coastal management. Dr. Hesp talked about the geology of barrier islands and how natural dynamics usually cause cyclic accretion and subsidence of barrier islands. In the Mississippi, a delta forms around the mouth of the river. When the river switches course throughout geologic time, wave and wind action create barrier islands with the sediment from the deltas. Next, subsidence occurs until in the last step, the barrier island becomes a shoal. Dr. Hesp’s lecture implies that for many of the barrier islands, we can only slow down the rate of subsidence but not stop the natural process all together. The rate of subsidence is made worse by the fact that the Mississippi has been dammed along its length and 80% of the sediment no longer reaches the wetlands. Between 1998 and 2003, $30 million dollars was spent on trying to maintain Whiskey and Trinity Islands alone. Without these “restoration” efforts, the islands would certainly be worse off but there is no doubt that we will lose them eventually no matter what we do. It seems as though the only means to manage barrier islands is by slowing the rate of loss and nothing more.

Dr. Patrick Hesp talks to us about the geology and restoration of barrier islands.

Dr. Patrick Hesp talks to us about the geology and restoration of barrier islands.

After giving us an overview of the massive importance the Louisiana port system, Marine Education Associate Nicole Cotton set us Lucers loose on LUMCON. To help us get better acquainted with our home away from home, she made a scavenger hunt for us. We found that LUMCON itself is essentially shaped like a giant “X.” It’s very easy to get lost in here. We wandered around and around corridor after corridor, searching for specific laboratories and information posters. Fortunately, all the staff members around here are very friendly, and they’re used to people getting lost in the facility. That said, they’re always happy to direct lost students to wherever they need to go.

Later we braved the wind and rain for a few brief minutes to collect plankton in a watery area outside of the building. Hurrying out of the rain, we trooped back to the lab to look at what we had collected under a microscope. We saw dinoflagellates, copepods, rotifers and several other plankton groups. We will come back to a more detailed plankton analysis on Thursday but it was fun to watch the little critters scurrying across the screen.

Breanna collects a plankton sample from the marsh.

Breanna collects a plankton sample from the marsh.

That evening, we went to a community dinner with the Dulac Houma Indians, where we ate traditional gumbo, rice and beans. Pastor Kirby Verret, the Methodist pastor of the Dulac community welcomed us with opened arms, as did the rest of the Houma with whom we ate. A very inspirational speaker, and obviously a leader in the community, Pastor Kirby told as about the history of his people and his visions for the future. The Houma were cheated out of their land when oil and gas companies realized they were sitting on valuable resources. They were blatantly discriminated against until the Civil Right Movement finally allowed them to go to public schools but even now, though things are somewhat better, there is still mistrust and undercover discrimination of the Houma. Oil and gas interests fear that the Houma will try to take back the land which they once held. Pastor Kirby stressed the need for friendship and hoped that many of us would return. We were all greatly moved by the pastor’s words and we all came back to LUMCON wondering how we could help this group of people whose futures are so intertwined in the environment in which they live. If you view the marsh as an isolated, barren landscape, you miss the fact that the loss of the wetlands means the loss of cultures and ways of life.

Dinner with the Dulac Houma Community.

Dinner with the Dulac Houma Community.

Cara Applestein & Breanna Marr

Day 6 – November 8

November 10th, 2009 by luce09

 

               It’s Day 6 at 8:35 AM in Vicksburg, Mississippi; we’re packed and ready to go. The only tension in the air is a low-pressure system, well, a Category 2 hurricane that’s heading directly towards us.  We will soon be butting heads with Hurricane Ida.  The clouds seem to be darkening, metaphorically speaking, as again we face technical difficulties with the van, which, after 10 minutes of frantically searching, turns out to be a poorly positioned megaphone.  Who knew?  I think that’s called a 10-60.  With everything settled, we’re off!  It’s just another morning on the Luce Adventure.

               Not 5 minutes into the drive we see it, the Mississippi River.  Cheers and applauding erupt from the PBDE filled seats behind me.  All of these long weeks of study and lectures and we can finally put a face to the name.  For many of us Lucers, this is our first time to Louisiana and with all of the elements working in tandem, we are unsure what to expect.  But, as usual, we pull a U-turn and cross back over to Mississippi.  Surprise?  Cheers erupt again as we begin to acclimate to the confusion factor surrounding this trip.

               Our first stop is the highest point along the shores of the Mississippi River.  It is nothing more than a 30’x 40’ hill of bedrock overlooking one of the most strategic points in the Civil War.  As we file back into the van, I notice something unique: on every face is an expression of appreciation and curiosity.  It’s a rare thing to witness such a large group of people that share the same eagerness for what they are doing at a moment’s time.  The time I’ve wasted in ignorance of who these academics are is simply criminal.

"LUCE LOVE" taken at the highest point in Mississippi

"LUCE LOVE" taken at the highest point in Mississippi

Tangent aside, we arrive at the New Orleans International Airport to pick up one of our fellow Lucers, Carrie Evans, who unfortunately has not been able to join us thus far due to Swine Flu complications.  However, although she had the Swin-eee, we are all very excited to share the rest of the trip with her.

               At 2:45 PM, we arrived at Brenda Dardar-Robichaux’s house.  She is highly decorated with medals and awards from the USA, the United Houma Nation, and even France.  Brenda is the Principal Chief of the Houma, a 17,000-member nation, only surpassed by the Tribal Council.  Apart from being an advocate for minority issues, Brenda serves on and runs several Boards dealing with education and other developmental issues pertaining to the Houma Nation and community.

               The United Houma Nation, a non-federally recognized American Indian Nation, originated in Baton Rouge but migrated south into the marshes due to white influence and took residence in the southeastern portion of Louisiana.  However, these lands also are being stripped from them.  Several of the Houma still do not have clear property rights and, thus, many industries (Oil and Gas) have come in and taken it or tricked them into leasing it to them.  A lot of this confusion comes from the Houma’s trust in one’s word and their lack of educationBefore the Civil Rights movement the Houma were restricted to a 7th or 8th grade education.  If a higher education were to be obtained, they would have to venture out of the Parish.  This left little choice for the Houma because they scheduled their lives around the seasons, particularly crabbing and shrimping.  Yet, despite the struggles for equity and justice, the United Houma Nation, currently lead by Brenda, make the best of everything.  She is one of the most hospitable women I have had the pleasure to meet, offering our whole class a place to stay if the weather would not permit our original plans of staying at LUMCON.  I am proud to have met Brenda and look forward to dinner tomorrow night with the Houma community in Dulac.

Brenda Dardar-Robichaux at her house in the middle of the Houma discussion.

Brenda Dardar-Robichaux at her house in the middle of the discussion on the United Houma Nation.

               Well, we finally made it to LUMCON (Louisiana University Marine Consortium).  It is a remarkable facility suspended on concrete stilts as if it were a 5th grade diorama project supported by toothpicks.  But don’t worry.  Why?  Well, A) LUMCON has survived and will continue to survive several recent hurricanes, such as Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike and B) we Lucers know how to take care of each other by this point.  Not much too it.  Anyway, this consortium was formed in 1979 (the facility was built in 1987) by the LA legislature and its mission is to provide an education and marine research laboratory to improve awareness of the environmental, economic, and cultural aspects of the Mississippi River Delta and LA. It’s a very scientifically inspiring building with lots of research lining the walls and labs lining the hallways.  I’m in Heaven.  I know I shouldn’t say this, but I kind of feel bad for all of my buddies and housemates who are in 2-3 hour lectures, stuck in the same old boring routine of class – food – TV – Homework – and sleep… This trip has given me the most education of my academic career and it has only been about a week.  What’s next?

Brendan Young

Front yard of LUMCON - flooded by water.

Front yard of LUMCON – flooded by water from unusually high tides.

Day 5 – November 7

November 9th, 2009 by luce09

We woke up this morning after a wild night of hip-swinging and blues-bopping at Red’s Juke Joint in Clarkesdale, MS. The stale smell of cigarette smoke clung heavily to our hair, but the memories of soulful music, dance, and people made it more than worth the nasal discomfort. We headed over to the Delta Amusement Cafe for breakfast, which serves meat on just about everything, including pancakes for an additional $1.50. There was more grease to my hash browns than potato, but they were delicious. No one embarked on this journey for the sake of health food.

Mr. Tater outside Delta Blues Amusement Cafe.

Mr. Tater outside Delta Blues Amusement Cafe.

Our waistbands just a little tighter, we walked over to the Delta Blues Museum, which is fittingly located at the corners of Delta and Blues Avenues. One of the best-kept buildings in Clarkesdale, this impressive, refurbished freight station can’t be missed. Maie Smith, a kind-natured tour guide and proprietor, shared with us her wealth of knowledge about the history of the museum, the exhibits, and the blues artists themselves.  People from across the globe make pilgrimages to this amassment of cultural history, where the walls are covered with biographies of famous Delta Blues artists and anecdotes from their larger-than-life lives.  Dozens of glass cases display the clothing, harmonicas, guitars, banjos, and madinka koras (21-stringed instruments made from calabash gourds and cow skin) of legends.

One of the most striking exhibits is a sculpture by blues artist James “Son” Thomas. This piece consists of a life-size clay woman lying in a coffin.  Atop the lid of this coffin rests a clay skull complete with a set of real human teeth.  The empty eyes stared eerily at us.  I imagine that they enjoyed our looks of shock.

Just beside these images of death is one of the most powerful exhibits that the museum had to offer: Muddy Waters’ one-room cabin.  Roughly hewn from uneven cypress logs, this dwelling housed Waters on a sharecropping plantation.  It was incredible to see this humblest of beginnings standing ten feet away from the artifacts of the glitzy life of bright lights and blues that Waters went on to live.  It’s truly a testimony of the indomitability of the human spirit.

But the Delta Blues Museum is more than a hall of memories.  The vision of the museum is to connect the past with the future.  With their Delta Blues Arts and Education Program, the facility is teaching a new generation of future artists to play the blues.  Former students such as Venessia Young have played for United States Presidents and competed in Europe.  For anyone who loves the Blues, this museum is an must-see.

Our rabble outside the Delta Blues Museum.

Our rabble outside the Delta Blues Museum.

Once we wandered through 7000 square feet jam-packed with history, we strode out onto the lawn. The sun soaking into our blue jeans, we laid on the grass in front of the museum and presented biographies of Blues musicians beneath a cloudless sky.  Mr. Tater the Music Maker, a local street performer, strummed Alex’s guitar and cemented our immersion into Delta culture. From there, we drifted through the town and made our way to Morgan Freeman’s Gound Zero, where we enjoyed lunches of fried green tomato sandwiches before piling reluctantly back into the vans.  As we rolled through the streets out of town, the gravelly tones of our final Clarkesdale Blues song washed over us; another street musician rested on a storefront stoop, plucking his guitar.  The haunting, rough groans could have come from the town itself.

Breanna Marr

An alleyway in Clarksdale.

An alleyway in Clarksdale.

Evan making his mark at Ground Zero.

Evan making his mark at Ground Zero.

Day 4 – November 6

November 9th, 2009 by luce09
              Today we set off on a 12-hour journey from Bristol, VA to Clarksdale, MS, home of the blues. Today was our first full day of driving and the hours in the car were broken up with countless rest stops and gas stops.  A few days ago I was reading some old Luce blogs and noticed one that stated the 10 commandments of Luce.  Little did I know when I read the commandment “we will stop every hour on the hour so that one Lucer can use the restroom” it would hold absolutely true.

               To pass the time at rests stops and stretch our legs several games and exercises came out of the woodwork.  Many of the current Lucers have been camp counselors or babysitters so the games westarted playing were at a somewhat childish level, perfect for 10 minute stops at rest areas along the interstate.  One of the games we played is an old Luce favorite from Luce ‘05, stick; it’s perfect for playing in rest stops because all you need is….. You guessed it, a stick! Other rest stop activities included jogging, jump roping, successful and unsuccessful cartwheels, stretching, eating (of course), and a game of quarters that Kerstin taught us where you try to place a quarter on the ground as far away from you as possible and then stand back up without tripping or falling over- harder than it sounds, I promise.

Alex, Kerstin and Katelyn cartwheel at one of our rest stops to work out the kinks from the long drives.

Alex, Kerstin and Katelyn cartwheel at one of our rest stops to work out the kinks from the long drives.

               While still in Tennessee we made an educational stop near Harriman, TN. This was the site of a slurry spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston power plant that occurred in December 2008. The spill allowed approximately 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash to rush into the surrounding community and the Clinch River.  Since we spent yesterday looking at Mountain Top Removal – an early step in the coal industry-  and today got to see the damage that it can do in a later process, it really struck us how widespread and deadly coal power is.  This spill was also related to Luce because the Clinch River is a tributary of the Tennessee River, which is a major tributary of the Mississippi River.  That means that all of that toxic fly ash and bottom ash that spilled out in Harriman, TN made its way down to the bird’s foot delta in Louisiana, potentially affecting every shore along the way.

The beautiful Tennessee sky from the van window.

The beautiful Tennessee sky from the van window.

               We stopped for dinner at the crossroads, the famous intersection of routes 61 and 49.  Legend has it that if you brought you guitar to the crossroads at midnight the devil would tune and play it, making you instantly talented and famous, in exchange for your soul.  Robert Johnson, a famous blues musician that died very young, is rumored to have sold his soul to the devil for fame at the crossroads. Many of us went to Abe’s BBQ for dinner where we got real Mississippi BBQ, slathered in Abe’s special sauce and delicious as they come. From there we only had the final stretch left of our long day to Clarksdale.

A great barbeque dinner at Abe's.

A great barbeque dinner at Abe's.

               We arrived at the Uptown Motor Inn in Clarksdale, MS around 8 PM, finally completing our 12-hour driving portion of the day.  But in reality the day had just begun!  We quickly cleaned up and set off to Red’s Juke Joint for an evening of blues and southern culture.  Red’s is the epitome of a real southern Juke Joint and Professor Heiman set up a special treat for all of us to see Big Jack Johnson perform.  For those of you who don’t know about Big Jack Johnson he is a very famous blues musician and artist who was born and raised in Clarksdale.  He now travels near and far to entertain fans and true believers of the blues.

               We walked into Red’s with no idea what to expect.  I had never even dreamed a place like Red’s existed in real life. Walking in was like walking into a movie or a description from an old novel.  The seats were all mismatched and had a homey relaxed feel about them.  The lights were red and turned down low and the walls and ceiling looked worse for the wear.  All of this taken into account none of us dwelled too long on what Red’s looked like; the music that found a way to fill every nook and cranny in the place made it feel just right.  We spent the next 4 hours listening to Big Jack and the band – including a saxophonist named Alphonso Sanders that got Anna Farb to take out her horn and play with the band- and a special guest appearance by Watermelon Slim, one of the best of today’s blues singers and harmonica players. Many of us got a chance to talk to Big Jack, Red, and even Robert Belfour (another famous blues musician) who came into Red’s later. We twisted, swung, sung, and boogied for hours out on the dance floor. Some of us were embarrassed with our lack of dancing skills compared to all of the amazing locals in the joint, but once Candie pointed out that “ there are really only a couple of us that can dance but we can all have fun and pretend” we got all 18 Lucers out on the dance floor.  I don’t think any of us will forget our first true encounter with a juke joint and the culture of the blues.

Big Jack Johnson with the band at Red's Juke Joint.

Big Jack Johnson with the band at Red's Juke Joint.

Anna Farb blowing her horn alongside blues musician Alphonso Sanders at Red's.

Anna Farb blowing her horn alongside blues musician Alphonso Sanders at Red's.

Ashley and Brendan giving Big Jack our blog card.

Ashley and Brendan giving Big Jack our blog card.

Lucers dancing up a storm at Red's.

Lucers dancing up a storm at Red's.

               Exhausted we got back from dancing around midnight.  Falling into our beds all we can think about is tomorrow, our full day in Clarksdale, and seeing and experiencing this culture in the daylight.  Every day of this semester I am becoming more and more fully aware that every person is a textbook, and we are a landscape of people.  Today’s cultural and educational experiences showed me the true importance of the interdisciplinary aspect of this semester as well as the unique personalities that we all have that make us Luce ’09.

Ashley Arayas

Day 3 – November 5

November 8th, 2009 by luce09

Mountain top removal, a coal extraction technique with a name alone that should raise a red flag, shook our environmental foundations today. For the sole reason of increasing profits, coal companies like Massey Energy extract coal by completely eliminating the surface of the mountain instead of underground mining. First, they clear cut the vegetation, then they drill, taking off 5 ft. sections of the mountain at a time. They toss the wasted earth they have just removed into the valleys until they reach the seams of coal, effectively destroying the mountaintops. We drove and hiked up Kayford Mountain, or what is left of it, with coal-miner-turned-activist, Chuck Nelson. The coal industry has so much influence over politics and community dynamics in West Virginia that it takes a great deal of courage to speak out against mountain top removal.

 

Chuck Nelson leads us up Kayford Mountain to see the impacts of mountain top removal.
Chuck Nelson leads us up Kayford Mountain to see the impacts of mountain top removal.
Mountain top removal operation in progress on Kayford Mountain.

Mountain top removal operation in progress on Kayford Mountain.

We saw a mountain top removal site, a flattened surface of gray and black where the mountain’s apex once existed. Although the surrounding areas of reclamation shone green with vegetation, these grasses paled in comparison with the hardwood forest that had once thrived on the mountain. When we came back down the mountain, a security guard from the coal mining operation sat in his truck, but no trouble ensued, fortunately. How did West Virginia, “The Mountain State” become “The Extraction State” and how can we fix this, we all wondered, reflecting on the devastation.

Unnatural ridges of the reclamation areas

Unnatural ridges of the reclamation areas

We spent the afternoon at the Coal River Mountain Watch Headquarters Office with Lorella Scarborough, who is working on the Coal River Wind Project, and Judy Bonds, the 2003 winner of the Goldman Environmental Award. Coal River Mountain is the only mountain left in the area that has not been blasted away, though Massey has recently started a small mining operation with the permit that they received.  Lorella described the proposed wind project consisting of 220 2.0 megawatt wind turbines on top of Coal River Mountain.  The Coal River Mountain Watch is currently trying to get access to the land by stopping the permits from being granted to Massey Energy.   Even with the turbines erected, the coal could be underground mined.  This sounds like a very reasonable compromise and we hope that the wind project will continue to develop.

Judy speaks to us about the struggles of her activism and advocacy of alternative energy over mountain top removal coal extraction.

Judy speaks to us about the struggles of her activism and advocacy of alternative energy over mountain top removal coal extraction.

Judy is reminiscent of the late Martin Luther King Jr., leading her cohorts to partake in civil acts of disobedience against mountain top removal, with no tolerance for violence.  Search “Judy Bonds slapped” on Youtube to see how well she controls herself even when provoked with a slap.  Who would mess with such a heroic, unstoppable force, you ask?  Coal miners and their families feel threatened by the Coal River Mountain Watch’s strong opposition to mountain top removal.  The community is divided and we got a first hand account.  Although the folks from the Coal River Mountain Watch hosted us graciously and we got a few friendly smiles on the street, a driver passing us yelled “Go home” because of the “Dickinson College Environmental Studies – Engage the World Sustainably” sticker on our van.  Another driver threw a couple of fire poppers on the ground about twenty feet from where we were discussing impacts of the coal silo 150 feet from Marsh Fork Elementary School with another member of the Coal River Mountain Watch, Ben Web.  We left soon after, appalled yet moved.

Anna Farb