“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
—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
And we’ve probably all done the same thing — note to our buddies
the fast pace of change, shrug and go about our business.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|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
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
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
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
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.”
| Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|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
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
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
“They need to get involved in groups like the Coalition or CCA,
where they can magnify their voices,” he said.
|Photo by ANDY CRAWFORD
|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.”