• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

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The Surf Zone, Headlands, and Barrier Islands

Caminada Headland

I wrote the following in the first draft of The Mississippi: A Visual Biography. I was talking about the surf zone at the Caminada Headland. Bayou Lafourche formed the headland when it carried the Mississippi and deposited its sediment in the Gulf of Mexico, beginning about 2,800 years ago. What applies to  the headland applies to those regions along the Louisiana coast where wetlands and barrier islands meet the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike the passes at the Bird Foot Delta, fingers that reach out into the Gulf of Mexico, the Caminada Headland has beaches.

Wetlands behind the headland beach, nurseries for fish and shellfish, resting and feeding places for birds.

Shorebirds patrol the headland beach. Speckled trout, Florida pompano, and blue crabs attract gulls, terns, pelicans, and skimmers to the surf zone. The Gulf sturgeon winters in Caminada Pass and Belle Pass where it sucks up creatures from the bottom. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle feeds near the shore and in the protected bays behind the headland.

Without restoration of the Caminada Headland the surf zone would survive, but the saline ponds and lagoons– important to fish, shellfish, and their predators–would be much smaller. Bay Champagne and Elmer’s Lagoon, right on the edge of the gulf would be gone. Every ten years Barataria basin would lose 24,000 acres of marsh. Its estuarine-dependent fishery would collapse. With the collapse of the fishery, the brown pelican would be hard pressed to find food. So would the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

Three endangered or threatened species breed elsewhere, but winter in the Gulf of Mexico in the region of the Caminada Headland and other barrier islands. Gulf sturgeons spawn but do not feed in the headwaters of freshwater rivers that flow to the Gulf of Mexico, returning year after year to the same place. In the fall they migrate to the gulf, where they siphon their food, feeding on bottom-dwelling sea invertebrates, crustaceans, marine worms, and fish. Young Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, which traditionally bred at Rancho Nuevo in Mexico but were transplanted to Padre Island, Texas by the National Park Service, migrated north to the Louisiana Coast, where they forage, on fish, shrimp, and crabs in the shallow nearshore habitat of Caminada Headland and other barrier islands. The piping plover breeds on sandbars of rivers in the northern Great Plains, on beaches in the Great Lakes, and along the Atlantic Coast. The bird finds wintering habitat on beaches, mud flats, sand flats, algal flats, and breaks in the sand dunes, where the tide has washed in its prey–marine worms, crustaceans, insects, and the occasional mollusk.

That the most cogent information of the species that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico and its nearshore environment comes from the April 2007 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, 2007-2012 punctuates the importance of the oil and gas business to Louisiana and Port Fourchon. Offshore oil and gas drilling started in 1933 a mile off the Louisiana coast in thirteen feet of water. It was fifteen years before oil and gas explorers drilled in the Gulf of Mexico beyond the site of land. By the mid-1950s the oil industry was pushing farther and farther offshore. Onshore support services followed. Business at Port Fourchon exploded in the 1990s when deep-water oil production began in the 1990s.[i]

Tidal Ponds on Timbalier Island, West of the Caminada Headland

At this point, May 2, 2010 neither the Caminada Headland nor Timbalier Island is threatened by the oil slick, spreading eastward across the Gulf of Mexico.

A graphic from the New York Times via the New Orleans Times-Picayune illustrates this best. Oyster beds have been closed east of the Mississippi, but remain open west of the river. The graphic also tells a little about some of the birders, who will be adversely impact by the oil slick: the Brown Pelican and the Royal Turn, which breed on the barrier islands; the Reddish Egret and the Mottled Duck, which live only on the coast;  and the Snowy Plover, which feeds on small invertebrates or oysters.

As always LaCoastPost has an update on the slick.


[i] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Louisiana, Ecosystem Restoration Study,  New Orleans, November 2004, Barrier Island-16, http://data.lca.gov/Ivan6/main/main_report_all.pdf; US Geological Survey, Florida Integrted Science Center, “Gulf Sturgeon Facts,” http://cars.er.usgs.gov/Marine_Studies/Sturgeon_FAQs/sturgeon_faqs.html; Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, Gulf of Mexico OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sales: 2007-2012, New Orleans: U.S. Department of the Interior, April 2007, 3.2.4.4. Kemp’s Ridley, 3.2.6.2. Endangered and Threatened Species, Piping Plover, 3.2.7.1. Gulf Sturgeon, http://www.gomr.mms.gov/PDFs/2007/2007-018-Vol1.pdf; Keithly, Diane C., Lafourche Parish and Port Fourchon, Louisiana: Effects of the Outer Continental Shelf Patroleum Industry on the Economy and Public Service, Part 1, Baton Rouge: Coastal Marine Institute, Louisiana State University, May 2001, 7-9, http://www.gomr.mms.gov/PI/PDFImages/ESPIS/3/3106.pdf.

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One Response

  1. Thank you very much for these very informative background posts on the areas affected by this oil disaster. It’s good to get detail that goes beyond most of what is being currently reported. It breaks my heart that such a beautiful and special coastline is under such threat.

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