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What can I do?
By Andy Crawford
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“Why is this woman pushing her baby? Why is this man delivering letters? Why are these lovers holding hands? Why aren’t they rioting in the streets, demanding immediate steps to rescue the ecological base upon which their property, their livelihoods, rest?”

—Mike Tidwell in Bayou Farewell

We’ve all seen variations of the same situation — a trip by a spit of land that once was a fairly large island flush with greenery.

And we’ve probably all done the same thing — note to our buddies the fast pace of change, shrug and go about our business.

Louisiana anglers have first-hand knowledge of the coastal erosion problem, but most do little more than shake their heads and marvel at the loss of the fishery habitat. Coastal advocates say that sportsmen need to demand that Louisiana’s marshes be saved.
Louisiana anglers have first-hand knowledge of the coastal erosion problem, but most do little more than shake their heads and marvel at the loss of the fishery habitat. Coastal advocates say that sportsmen need to demand that Louisiana’s marshes be saved.

This is the indifference to which Mike Tidwell speaks in his book Bayou Farewell, and it’s something he simply can’t understand.

Port Sulphur native Kerry St. Pe said it took a long time for him to come to terms with Louisiana’s seeming lack of concern.

“I have spent many, many years wondering the same thing,” said St. Pe, who is program director for the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.

Finally the reason began to come into focus.

“What I’ve come to believe is that it’s because of everything we have. We have been blessed with one of the places that is the top estuary in the world,” he said. “There are few places that are as productive as our marsh. It’s the very productivity of the place.”

Louisianians have heard for decades that the marshes are vanishing, and they’ve seen the loss with their own eyes. But the coast continues to produce more crabs, shrimp and fish than any other place in the country.

Consequently, it’s been easy for native Louisianians to ignore the incredible changes that will, if left unchecked, one day mean the end of the great fishing and hunting.

“Now we’re at the place where we say, ‘Whoa, we’ve destroyed the place,’” St. Pe said.

But as more and more Louisiana residents awaken to the impending nightmare, most have the same question: “What can I do?”

St. Pe said there are several ways in which the average Joe can affect changes.

“The first thing you need to do if you are motivated to do something is you need to educate yourself,” he said. “You need to make yourself aware of what’s going on.”

Although it’s not necessary to become a coastal scholar, this education should go beyond simply understanding that the coast is disappearing at an alarming rate.

“Find out why do we need to restore the barrier islands and why did we drink salt water out of Bayou Lafourche in the summer of 2000,” St. Pe said. “Don’t go off half-cocked.”

Apparent apathy on the part of Louisiana’s outdoorsmen might be tied to the seemingly endless marsh; if one little island erodes, there’s another one right behind it. This philosophy is leading the state toward disaster.
Apparent apathy on the part of Louisiana’s outdoorsmen might be tied to the seemingly endless marsh; if one little island erodes, there’s another one right behind it. This philosophy is leading the state toward disaster.

Once you have gained this kind of knowledge, it’s time to put it to use.

“Then you’ve got to use the ultimate power of everybody over the age of 18, and that’s the power to vote,” St. Pe said, explaining that it’s imperative to question those running for and currently serving in office.

“Our (legislative) representatives still don’t get many letters about coastal issues,” St. Pe said.

But that is beginning to change.

“Now people running for office are using this issue in their campaigns,” he explained. “Vote for people who will move their ideas forward.”

Mark Davis with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana agreed that voting is one of the critical ways an average citizen can impact coastal restoration.

“Vote like your coast depends on it,” Davis said. “The next governor’s watch will determine the future of Louisiana.

“If the voters don’t make this an issue, don’t expect the candidates to make it an issue.”

Candidates’ feet should be held to the fire, and they should be required by voters to clearly state their positions.

“This needs to be one of the issues people need to insist on straight, adequate answers before they pull the lever,” Davis said.

He also encouraged the average citizen to track the progress of initiatives and restoration program.

“Follow the progress of the Louisiana Comprehensive Study,” he said by way of example. “Make your feelings known.”

That’s not the end of each resident’s responsibility, however.

“When there’s a public meeting, you need to attend,” St. Pe said. “I’m tired of holding public meetings about the imminent demise of the system and have 40 people show up.

“People need to become involved.”

Davis said that involvement should extend past attending public meetings.

“They need to get involved in groups like the Coalition or CCA, where they can magnify their voices,” he said.

Restoration work gave new life to East Timbalier Island, but it was expensive. The cost of doing nothing, however, could be the loss of vital fisheries habitat and protection from hurricanes and tropical storms.
Restoration work gave new life to East Timbalier Island, but it was expensive. The cost of doing nothing, however, could be the loss of vital fisheries habitat and protection from hurricanes and tropical storms.

Other groups Davis encouraged participation in included the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Restore or Retreat, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited.

But don’t settle for simply attending conferences and meetings of those groups — become involved in restoration projects.

“We’ll have $125,000 next year to put into community projects,” Davis said. “I guarantee it won’t be Coalition employees putting in terraces or planting marsh grass.

“We have to work with people to do that.”

Davis and St. Pe agreed that the state’s residents also need to treat coastal areas with much more respect.

“You can do that by not cutting through the marsh. Watch your wake,” Davis said. “And don’t just bring your litter back; pick up the litter of others.”

While that might sound insignificant, these coast watchers said such changes in personal attitudes would signal to the nation that Louisianians take coastal restoration seriously.

“I’ll tell you, when I’ve had people down and taken them out to show them the marsh, when they look around and see all the litter, I’ve had them say, ‘If this is the way you show your love, you’ve got a strange way of doing it,’” Davis explained.

St. Pe couldn’t agree more.

“The rest of the nation knows our history. They aren’t exactly busting their (butts) getting us the money (to restore the coast),” he said. “They don’t trust us to do the right thing.”

St. Pe went on to say that only when the citizens of this state truly become involved in saving the coast will the nation be drawn in to help.

He pointed to Florida as a prime example of what can happen when local residents become involved.

“The Everglades are being saved because those people are demanding it,” St. Pe said. “Our people haven’t demanded it.”

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