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New Orleans
Sunday, March 15, 1998

We are back in the New Orleans area. We spent our first day exploring the coastal wetlands found at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Although the wetland region is likely the most characteristic of the Mississippi River delta, it is really only a small part. The wetlands cover about 10,808 square miles and stop just short of reaching New Orleans. The Mississippi River Delta actually reaches as far north as Baton Rouge

During colonial times, the area that now makes up the 48 mainland United States contained an estimated 221 million acres of wetlands. Today, that number is greatly reduced; wetlands cover only about half of that area. The loss of wetlands is attributed to the nation's expanding population and growing need for food, fiber, and housing.

Almost 40 percent of the remaining coastal wetlands are part of the mighty Mississippi River delta. Human activity in these areas combined with natural causes, such as sea level rises, tropical storms, and hurricanes have also caused loss of wetlands.

We figured that one of the best ways to explore the coastal wetlands was to arrange a tour with one of the locals on an airboat. Thanks to the help of Arthur Matherne of Arthur's Airboat Tours a few miles Southwest of New Orleans, we were able to experience an exciting journey through fresh water marshes, a bayou, and a cypress swamp. Because air boats can travel anywhere in these wetlands, we were able to get up close to some very interesting wildlife.

These marshlands are the habitat for thousands of species of aquatic life, fur-bearing animals, and birds of all types.Plants and mud create a floating matte that provides a habitat for the species in these areas, including muskrats, nutrias, and snakes. We learned that the thickness of the mud above the water is one way to differentiate one environment from the other. We also learned not to mess with the most famous resident of these wetlands--the alligator.

During our tour, we actually spotted quite a few alligators. These native predators will eat anything from bugs and frogs, to deer and even other alligators. Even though they are very dangerous, the locals here not only manage to find ways to catch alligators, but they are also brave enough eat them. Catching an alligator can be a big job considering the fact that some alligators in these parts grow to be as much as 13 feet long. The one Arthur caught was only 3 feet long and about two years old. We were brave enough to actually handle the little guy.

What do you suppose would be the best way to catch an alligator?

Coastal wetlands
                                   found at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Preparing for an air boat tour of the coastal wetlands.
Small alligator.

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