New Orleans is surrounded by swampland and is essentially a low-lying island. The swamps of New Orleans are among its most beautiful attractions, and its marshes offer some of the wildest nature found in the southern United States. It is said that Jean Lafitte, the noted pirate and hero of the Battle of New Orleans, made a living off pirate booty worth millions buried in the swamps.
Alligators can grow as large as 14 to 18 feet in the bayou. They alternate between lying in the water and on the banks to regulate their body temperature. The swamps are also home to several poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. There are six poisonous snakes in Louisiana, and one must watch out for water moccasins that may be underfoot or in the trees above.
In April 2013, I took a tour through a picturesque Louisiana swamp lined with moss-draped cypress and tupelo-gum trees. I had expected to see alligators, bald eagles, egrets, herons, snakes and turtles, but only saw a few alligators.
There are several tours you can take to explore the endless waterways and learn about the history of Louisiana and its bayous. I recommend a swamp tour to all who visit the wonderful city of New Orleans.
The airboat captain on our tour shared fascinating stories as he held a baby alligator and kissed it on its head. I held the alligator as well and kissed its head too. Its skin was soft and dry. Much to our surprise, he went nose to nose with an alligator as it arose from the water before feeding it a marshmallow.
It was quick a 30-minute drive from the French Quarter to Lafitte where we took our tour. There are several tour companies that offer dozens of tours daily, seven days a week. Many companies will pick you up from your downtown New Orleans hotel and take you directly to their boats in the swamp.
SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories is a compelling documentary by Jon Bowermaster and Chris Cavanagh that investigates the ecological, economic and social issues facing Louisiana. SoLa examines Louisiana’s importance to the United States, and exposes corruption, pollution and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana’s waterways support the biggest economies in the state, including a $70 billion a year oil and gas industry, a $2.4 billion a year fishing industry, tourism and recreational sports. Louisiana is also home to the largest Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico and more than 200 petrochemical plants along a 100-mile-long stretch of the Mississippi known “Cancer Alley.”
Since 1900, approximately 4,900 square kilometres of wetlands along the coast of Louisiana have been lost through erosion. Louisiana’s wetlands comprise about 40 per cent of the United State’s continental wetlands and include the largest contiguous wetland system in the lower 48 states. The state’s wetlands include bayous, swamps and marshes. The area around New Orleans and the Mississippi River is known as the Mississippi Delta. Deltas grow in size because of sediment deposited by a river.
The dams and levees that were built to protect from flooding prevent sediment from being deposited and have caused rapid erosion in the Mississippi Delta, making it the fastest-eroding coastline in the United States. The state’s wetlands face further destruction because of numerous canals that provide access to gas and oil wells. Storms also cause erosion and salt water enters canals destroying vegetation vital to the ecosystem.