This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.
The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.
For years, most residents didn’t notice because they live inside the levees and seldom travel into the wetlands. But even those who work or play in the marshes were misled for decades by the gradual changes in the landscape. A point of land eroding here, a bayou widening there, a spoil levee sinking a foot over 10 years. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, those losses seemed insignificant. There always seemed to be so much left.
Now locals are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, even cattle pastures and backyards — with more disappearing every day.
Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing the wetlands out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel through six miles of healthy marshes, swamps and small bays to reach the Gulf of Mexico. “Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.””