Ghost Forests of Louisiana

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We slowly headed down a Louisiana bayou in Terrebonne Parish – a small group of scientists and writers sitting comfortably on a boat 26 feet in length named Dos Gris. We came from locations across the globe to the southern Louisiana coast to seek out stories of coastal optimism, stories of hope and resilience in a region known to be subject to extreme weather events and so much more. But at this moment, we were staring across an area of healthy cord grass with skeletons rising above the surface – skeletons of dead trees.

Our guide from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) motioned from the Dos Gris across the viewscape, pointing out tree after tree that once was a part of a community of deciduous woodlands. What happened to these trees that are now just bare trunks with a handful of branches missing their leaves? It's not a mystery. South Louisiana, especially in regions of the Mississippi River Delta, has been subjected to rising sea level and coastal subsidence. With saltwater now creeping into regions where the plant life relies on freshwater, the new water chemistry acts as a poison to the Bald Cypress and Live Oak – the land becomes too wet and too salty to support healthy coastal woodlands.

It's difficult to know what was the scariest part of what we were seeing. Is it the overall loss of the native littoral landscape? Or knowing that as sea level continues to rise, there will be more dead trees contributing to the growth of ghost forests? It is projected that coastal forested wetlands on the North American Coastal Plain will be covered in ghost forests within 100 years. We continue down the bayou on the Dos Gris to find stories that are not-so doom-and-gloom...


Image of Through the Woods


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