Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One dead alligator and two catfish
By: Ken La Rive

We have carved another path in the marsh about an hour and a half south of Morgan City. Our inland barge rig, tug boats, and supply barges are now sitting in the middle of this fresh water lake called Turtle bayou. I have tested the water and it has only 1,200-ppm chlorides. I’ll be using that to build our spud mud, and it is fresher than even Crowley’s tap water.

It seems evident to me that there is a ruckus going on in this desolate place, and the animal life have all gone into hiding, wondering what this giant monster is up to.

Must have been very quite before we showed up. Insects could actually hear each other talk, the moon guided moths, and lightening bugs flashed without confusion from our lights.

Today a dead alligator and several catfish floated by the rig, not smart or quick enough to get out of the way, they were caught under one of the tugs or barges that we push and pull through the shallows.

Before we arrived this little inlet was dredged and a fresh layer of mud made new land, an embankment on both sides one mile long. It changed the dynamics of this environment, creating new ones. It may be home to some future bird nests, an alligator, snake, and turtle sun deck, or possibly dry-land critters and plants. Who knows, possibly not everything we do has a negative consequence, or impact. One thing is evident; however, we sure can cause some broad environmental changes, and fast!

There are enough protective laws now that we are required to have zero discharge. That means we aren’t allowed to throw anything over the side. All cuttings, even our meal scraps are sent back to the landing for disposal or processing. It’s expensive, but helps to minimize the impact we are having here. For me, it seems more an insult to our intelligence. Our protective laws say we can’t dump heavy metals like lead from barite, chrome from lignosulfonate, oil, and stuff like uric acid, but what about vibration, noise, and clouds of noxious gas from our diesel engines? What about the simple blending of environments by digging, where fresh water mixes with brackage, or salt intrusion? Well, we do have to drill for oil, and in the process we will make tracks. It is a trade-off, I suppose.

Last night a savvy snake swam by, sticking his tong out for a recalcitrant look, but just a small movement from me and he sank under the muddy water. That’s why he’s still alive! The wildlife is coming back slow, and this morning a mother and two ducklings made their way bravely past our shale barge, to the safety of the grass. I can see from the helo-port that the water beyond our churning activity is crystal clear, though choked by floating purple Macllhenny plants, just starting to bloom. They are indeed beautiful when in full blossom, but few know that less than a hundred years ago this plant was virtually unknown in Louisiana. We have been changing things for a long time, and some of what we take for granted our ancestors knew nothing about. Clogged up bayous for one...

I’m thinking that in some far future these swamps turned bogs may be used for fuel, or packaged like sphagnum moss at Lowe’s. Nothing wrong with a little optimism, am I right? Perhaps we could import a family of sea-cows to eat this stuff. Nothing indigenous to this area will. If we could just keep the manatees a bit warm during the winter, and protect them from barges, speedboats and such, they could eat us a passageway through, where only airboats can now go.

From the sky it is far more evident. We have sliced and served our abundance of seacoast and swamps in search of oil. These scratches don’t look like much from 10,000 feet, but when standing on the catwalk looking out, it resembles an open wound. A bit graphic, I suppose, but accurate.

We have mixed fresh and salt water, changing habitats that took from the last ice age to form, destroying in a few years what eons created. We are so close to it we think it is normal, and I suppose it is now normal to dredge a new canal in one day, build levees that block the free flow of water, dam up rivers that seek to change coarse, and then we are so amazed when we hear our state is actually sinking into the sea. It is normal if we have the ability to do it? Does that make it right?

I have a theory, though most think it is wrong. I know what is causing the great dead zone in the gulf every year. You know that area where no fish can live because there’s no oxygen in the water? Well, anyone who has been on a rig at the base of any Louisiana river can see the mass of fresh water vegetation pouring into the gulf. What happens to fresh water plants when they hit the 22,000 ppm chlorides of open water? They die! Then what? They float around in large stinking masses that look like flat brown drops, and then sink. Where else can it go but down? The micro-organisms that digest vegetation breathe oxygen just like you and me, so in the process all oxygen is depleted, and worse than that, the actual organisms die too, oxygen starved! What a mess? Is this normal? Well, at the base of the Amazon River in South America where these plants originally came from, it is, but the South Atlantic is such a large place the effect is minimal. Here in our finite Gulf of Mexico, there isn’t any place for it to go but down. Down to the mucky-muck where it is slowly covered by sediment…

Some day these deposits may give us a future oil reserve, laced with methane and hydrogen sulfide. Until that time the fishing will be lousy.

But who really cares? Not the little girl at the traffic light driving her father’s SUV, or just about any body on I-10 going from point A to point B. Not the teacher who gets information from outdated books, or any industry personnel who want to stay employed. I don’t think most care because they view life from 10,000 feet up. From up there it looks like just a few criss-crossed scars, a few open wounds, but to me, sitting in the middle of it, a dead alligator and two catfish tells volumes.

Well, the sun is setting giving up quite a show. No two are ever alike you know, so you can enjoy it every day! Some things are out of control to change, I suppose, and under the stars this scar is hardly noticeable. Though in my mind what we are doing is just as bad as the Scots having to burn their Scotch pines for charcoal, some day we will look back and see the loss for what it is. Our ancestors will shake their heads, as our environmental destruction is just as bad as the slash and burn of rainforests, the clear-cut of old growth, and the wholesale sweep of our oceans by pogie boats in search of nitrogen. But what the hay, eat drink and be merry!

Note: I wrote the above five days ago and the chlorides are now up to 3000. Low, but double what they were when we showed. Marsh hens have taken up residence on the mud levees we have created, and large alligator tracks are visible. They come to watch the show at night.

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