Interviewee: Jennifer Buchanan

Role: Education coordinator at Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources

Date of Interview: 1/12/12

Collection: Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster Oral History Project

Click on the link below to play the audio clip from the interviewee.

Abstract: Jennifer Buchanan, education coordinator at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve explains the problems of wetland loss along the northern Gulf Coast region, and offers her assessment of a number of factors impacting the seafood harvesting business, including habitat loss, hurricanes, imported seafood and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster.


In Louisiana, you have mostly low marsh and a lot of that marsh was destroyed, especially during Hurricane Katrina, but in any tropical system, because the marshes in Louisiana are subsiding – that means they're sinking – because the Mississippi River no longer flows in the same pattern that it used to flow, [providing] the sediment that the wetlands need to maintain its elevation. So I mean, basically wetlands are all the time washing away or eroding a little bit or sinking a little bit, but there's always in the past been sediment that comes in and just allows it to keep building and keep building. That's kind of why some islands are disappearing is that in the past the Mississippi River deposited sediment on some of these islands, and it allowed them to maintain its height. But when you lose that freshwater, you lose that sediment. There's no longer anything to build up the islands. Like off of our reserve we had what was called the Grande Batture Islands, and these were some near-shore islands that helped protect our wetland system by breaking the waves and keeping the outer marshes from eroding away. Well, a long time ago, before people had any idea about diverting rivers, the Pascagoula River diverted and now comes out to where we know it to come out, now, on the west side of Pascagoula. It's thought that the Pascagoula used to flow through our reserve many, many years ago, and that's how that freshwater and sediment maintained the Grande Batture Islands. Today, I mean, just in the time that I've worked at the office, which when I first started working about twenty-five years ago, there were still some significant areas of higher, small islands, but basically all that's left today are mud lumps. Because of the erosion that's occurring, the storms, there's no sediment feeding into them. And so you have an area now that the habitats are going to be changing as the islands and those mud lumps erode away. Right now, they've kind of turned into really great substrate for sea grasses. So you've seen a transition from island to sea grass beds, and so the sea grass beds, which are extremely important to commercial fishing, eventually if that starts eroding away too much, it'll be too deep and won't be able to support the sea grasses. There are three zones of salt marsh. You have low marsh, mid-marsh, and high marsh. Mississippi has predominantly mid-marsh. Louisiana has predominantly low marsh, when you're talking about the salt marshes out front, and Alabama doesn't have the amount of salt marshes as either Mississippi or Louisiana has. Over time, some of those salt marshes have been filled in and lost because of development pressure. But new wetland laws have limited that loss. And there's a word called fetch, which it's a word that refers to how much open space is between two bodies of land that's separated by water. So the greater the fetch, the higher the winds and the waves that are generated in that area are. So that creates more erosion along the shorelines. In Mississippi, our greatest areas of erosion are occurring on both our east and west ends. Louisiana of course, all the southern part, they're saying they're losing a football-field-sized chunk of wetlands every day in South Louisiana. So, Louisiana [has] more wetlands, and they have a lot of canals that were dug for the oil and gas industry that also contributed to not only subsidence but erosion.

To listen to Jennifer's interview, click here.