National Geographic : 2010 Oct
• in the Mississippi River Delta, down at the bottom of the Louisiana boot, the term "coastline" doesn't really apply. ere is no line. ere are only the dashed pen strokes of the barrier islands, a dozen or so thin beachheads, and beyond, a porous system of open bays, canals, salt and brackish marshes, and freshwater swamps running inland for 25 to a hundred miles. These are the Louisiana wetlands---12,355 square miles of one of the most productive eco- systems in North America. Mullet are so pro- fuse they will literally jump into a sherman's boat. Brown pelicans, tricolored herons, rose- ate spoonbills, great egrets, and blue-winged teal ducks call this place home. One-third of the United States oyster and shrimp crop comes out of the waters along the Louisiana coast. And 98 percent of the fish, shrimps, crabs, and oysters har vested along that coast depend on habitat in and around the marshes of the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, an area that encompasses some four million acres south and west of New Orleans. Without these FORLORN IN THE BAYOU Louisiana's wetlands are resilient and have bounced back before. But no one knows how long this recovery will take. BY BRUCE BARCOTT Workers bag oil-collecting pom-poms near a bird rookery in Barataria Bay, La. Absorbent boom snakes at their feet. By the end of July, the cleanup had generated almost 40,000 tons of solid waste. JOEL SARTORE THE GULF OF OIL Environmental journalist Bruce Barcott lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington. is is his fourth feature for National Geographic.