The Mississippi River Delta is where the muddy waters of America’s longest river connect with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of this nation’s most important ecosystems for fish and wildlife—and one of its most endangered. The delta’s wetlands, cypress forests and barrier islands were formed over thousands of years by the shifting course of the Mississippi River and its annual floods.
For North America’s ducks and geese, the wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are second in importance only to the Prairie Pothole region of the upper Midwest. Every winter, the Mississippi delta hosts around seventy percent of the ducks and geese that use the Central and Mississippi flyways—as many as 10 million waterfowl in any given year.
Over the past eighty years, the Mississippi River Delta has lost an area of wetlands almost as large as the state of Delaware.
Many factors have led to the delta’s collapse, but none as much as the series of levees that were built following the Great Flood of 1927. The lower section of the river was straight-jacketed behind earthen dams as part of a national program to prevent flooding on the Mississippi River from Missouri to the Gulf. These levees protect low-lying communities from seasonal flooding, but they deny the delta’s wetlands the freshwater, sediments and nutrients they need.
Additionally, a vast network of shipping canals such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Houma Navigational Canal, the Calcasieu Ship Channel and the Freshwater Bayou and hundreds of smaller oil and gas navigation route were carved into the wetlands. These canals allow saltwater to penetrate deep into the wetlands, killing marsh vegetation, eroding the banks and disrupting the balance important for species at the heart of the Gulf’s food web—such as shrimp, blue crabs and oysters.
A football field of wetlands vanishes into open water almost every hour. If we don’t act soon, the delta as we know it will be gone forever.
The BP oil spill sent more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last year and polluted more than a thousand miles of coastline. It was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in our History and the Mississippi River Delta and its wetlands were hit particularly hard.
It will be a long time before we fully understand the impact of the spill, but there are signs that the oil is still having an effect on the Gulf. The penalties collected from BP and the other companies responsible for the oil spill should be dedicated to restoring the Gulf—but they won’t unless Congress steps up.
We as waterfowl hunters have always been at the forefront of conservation, especially as it relates to our wetlands. The United States Senate passed an amendment to the Transportation Bill that would dedicate 80% of the fines that will be assessed to BP and the other parties to gulf restoration.
This “RESTORE Act” will go a long way in addressing the impacts of the spill. The Bill is now in the United States House of Representatives where it is currently being debated. We as waterfowl hunters have a chance to really make a difference if we act now. Call your Congressmen and ask them to support the RESTORE Act, every voice counts if we want to protect our hunting heritage for the generations to come. Call for your kids and grandkids, I did. For more information, you can go to Vanishingparadise.org.