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See & Do

Lost Lands: Not Your Average Swamp Tour

Louisiana’s shrinking wetlands can feel like a far-away concept, but Lost Lands brings it to life through breathtaking, guided kayak tours.

Paddling through Shell Bank Bayou toward Lake Maurepas during a Lost Lands kayak swamp tour. (Photo: Rebecca Ratliff)

Did you know Louisiana is home to the nation’s most productive coastal wetland, the estuary of the Mississippi River? How about that this estuary comprises critical habitat for 90 percent of all of the fish in the Gulf of Mexico and 75 percent of all migratory waterfowl in all of North America?

Oh, and one more thing: it’s all shrinking — fast. 

Louisiana’s endangered coastal wetlands cast a ripple effect that reaches the entire nation. Domestic oil supply, refining capacity, and ports will all face crippling challenges as the wetlands continue to dissolve. And while this can all feel like an intangible, far-away concept, Lost Lands Environmental Tours is bringing it to life through their kayak trips through Shell Bank Bayou to Lake Maurepas.

The day-long kayak tour starts with an educational lesson from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Marshall (he and his wife, Marie Gould, co-own Lost Lands). Marshall is passionate, but objective: he walks participants through the history and current precarious state of Louisiana’s wetlands. In a nutshell, levees and canals, while necessary, “have destroyed half of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands — some 2,000 square miles.” To this day, we’re losing that same precious habitat at a rate of about 16 square miles per year.

Louisiana’s endangered coastal wetlands cast a ripple effect that reaches the entire nation.

The statistics are sobering, but not without hope: in November 2015, for example, Louisiana received an unprecedented $8 billion to put toward coastal restoration efforts.

After a morning crash course in the history and impact of coastal estuary destruction, you’ll caravan out to Shell Bank Bayou to immerse yourself (literally) in the wetlands crisis. Even the 45-minute drive raises one’s consciousness — crossing Bonnet Carre Spillway, which authorities opened in January to ease rising floodwaters, gives you a glimpse into just how much water surrounds us.

By the time you arrive at Shell Bank Bayou, you’ll likely feel a sense of both curiosity and awe. For me, this feeling remained throughout the entire tour, which lasted 3-4 hours as we paddled from the bayou to Lake Maurepas. Although I certainly could see the disappearing cypress-tupelo forests — fewer and farther between as we paddled toward the lake — the tour was engrossing for its sheer beauty. And that’s OK! By experiencing the vitality and richness of the coastal wetlands, I have a deeper understanding of their value that facts and figures alone could not provide. I’m a wetland warrior thanks to this eye-opening tour.

Until you can experience a Lost Lands tour for yourself (they offer both kayak and motor boat tours), follow along with a photo essay chronicling the trip, below.

Lost Lands Kayak Eco Tour

A nondescript launch point takes you deep into Shell Bank Bayou and its cypress forest.
A turtle rests on a log near our launch point at Shell Bank Bayou.
Our swamp tour leader offered both logistical advice on paddling as well as interesting details about the bayou.
Look up! Beautiful cypress forests surround you as you paddle through Shell Bank Bayou.
Getting deeper into the bayou now.
Even while paddling through thick duckweed, there were moments of paddles-up respite.
The stark but stunning vista as you approach Lake Maurepas from Shell Bank Bayou.
We ate lunch from our kayaks and swam in Lake Maurepas before heading back to the bayou. Note the diminished cypress trees.
Heading back to the bayou.
Back! And with a richer understanding of the beauty and fragility of the Louisiana wetlands.

All photos by Rebecca Ratliff

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