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New Orleans
Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Landlubbers no longer, we hit the waterways today for a guided tour of a Louisiana swamp. David Muth from Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, an expert on everything about the wetlands, was our guide today. He knows things about the geologic history and environmental threats to the wetlands. He's also an expert on the unbelievable (we mean huge) variety of plants and animals in these wetlands. Some of us were upset to hear that it was too chilly for alligators and snakes--not a problem for our producer on board!

We started our boat tour on Bayou Barataria. This bayou used to be a route the Mississippi River traveled to reach the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago. Along the way, we saw a lot of crisscrossing canals dug by companies searching for oil. This network of canals is one of the biggest problems in the wetlands. The canals changed the natural barriers that kept fresh water separate from salt water. Many species just can't survive in higher levels of saltwater. They die off, and the swamp loses its diversity. The Preserve staff is working hard to restore areas that are damaged so that native species can thrive again.

There is still plenty of wildlife to see in the marsh. We saw amazing birds like Snowy egrets, Turkey vultures, and Red-shouldered hawks. The swamp had thick stands of Bald cypress trees filled with hanging Spanish moss. It was eerie to see feathery moss dripping from trees. At one point we thought we had spotted an alligator but it dove for cover before we could get too close. We did see quite a few nutria, which are very common in the wetlands. Nutria look a lot like muskrats with bright orange front teeth! (They wouldn't smile for our cameras.)

Mr. Muth generously shared his time and expertise, giving us a ton of information that we can't wait to share with you during our live broadcast in May, and on the CD-ROMs we're developing. You'll be able to take the same tour we did, but you'll do it virtually so you won't have to get your feet wet and muddy!

Since we were shooting for our live broadcast and getting material for the CD-ROM, our boat was crowded. Our photographers had to use some fancy maneuvering, but we shot some great stuff, and we're anxious for you to see it.

Once we got back on land, we sat right down at our laptops so our experience was fresh in our minds. We hope today's journal gives you a feel for what we did in the wetlands, make sure you log on tomorrow to find out what we're up to!

Watch out for snakes! David Muth and Brian Stoll tromp through the swamp.
Talk about tight working conditions. Videographer Brian Stoll and photographer Mark Engler shoot in the wetlands.
Can you identify the plant hanging in the bald cypress tree?
Writing on the road--it's a tough job but somebody's got to do it.

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