From the Field: Getting Our Hands Dirty in the Bayou

Post written by Ali Sickle, Global Green's New Orleans office The Global Green New Orleans staff rides an airboat out to Bayou Sauvage

As airboats approached, humming like a dozen leaf blowers running at once, alligators gliding through a green sea of duck weed plunged their heads rapidly into the shallow water of Bayou Sauvage. Snowy egrets and white ibis fluttered into the clear, blue morning sky as officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transported about 30 volunteers from the National Wildlife Federation to an empty bog to replant native wetland grasses. Seven Global Green New Orleans staff members participated in this initiative on Friday, May 28, at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge to improve water quality and help restore Louisiana’s wetlands, which are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 38 minutes.

Staff members Ali Sickle and Becki Chall relax after a hard day's work in the marsh.

Established in 1990, Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge is part of the remaining St. Bernard Delta, which the Mississippi River formed when it began to supply silt and sediment to this region approximately 2,600 years ago. This diverse ecological environment includes 23,000 acres of freshwater and brackish marsh and serves as habitat for an abundance of wildlife--including marsh rabbits, brown pelicans and box turtles. Only a 20-minute drive from downtown New Orleans, it is the biggest urban wildlife refuge in the U.S.

Having participated in several coastal restoration projects in Louisiana, I confidently boarded the first airboat traveling to the restoration site. I situated the clunky ear protectors over my head and strapped myself into a bright orange life vest. I felt prepared in my knee-high rubber boots, lathered in Chigg-Away chigger repellant, and wearing sturdy planting gloves.

Covered in bayou mud, Global Green's Patrick Orr poses for the camera.

As we traveled down the bayou, I saw several gators and nudged my neighbor in excitement. However, my enthusiasm soon turned to anxiety as I lost count of these cold-blooded beasts--there were so many.

Three boats took a right off the bayou, spinning to a halt in an empty bog about a half-foot deep with water, where around 40 burlap bags containing smooth cord grass were scattered. Stepping off the boat, my boot sank in the rich, black mud--we were planting in quick sand. Crawling was the only way to avoid sinking.

We thrust our forearms into the organic matter to create a deep hole for the roots to take hold. After placing the native grasses in each pocket, we secured the plants by burying the roots. I felt like a kid again playing in the mud. Arriving back at the boat launch for lunch--free of snake and alligator bites--we all agreed this was a great Global Green team-building exercise.