Hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding are not uncommon in South Louisiana, and the Atchafalaya Basin is an amazing ecosystem that corrects and heals itself after these events. Severe weather is a part of who we are and a cornerstone of our Cajun culture. People from all over the country know about our “hurricane parties,” but vigilance and storm preparation are as much a part of our fabric as boiled crawfish and zydeco.
If you have ever wondered how severe weather affects the Atchafalaya Basin, we recently interviewed Basin Landing owner and lifelong resident of the region, Captain Tucker Friedman. “It’s all about what happens before and after the storm,” he says. Friedman explained that when the water is low before a storm, this is particularly helpful for several reasons. Interestingly, the lower the level of the water, the more likely that severe winds will knock leaves off the trees and onto the ground instead of into the water.
When water levels are higher before a major weather event, vegetation falls from the trees and lands in the water, where it begins to decay. The rotting vegetation takes all the oxygen out of the water. Since sunlight creates photosynthesis, which in turn raises the oxygen levels in the water, the lack of sunlight when it is overcast after a major storm can prolong the amount of time that the oxygen levels are low, which affects the fish in the area.
When storms are less severe, the fish are able to retreat back into the river where fresh, oxygenated water is always self replenishing. More severe storms that produce literal tons of rotten, oxygen consuming vegetation can cause the fish to die, an ecological event referred to as a “fish kill.” Fish kills can happen in different degrees of severity. If there is no sunlight after the storm passes, the water takes even longer to return to normal oxygen levels, so having sunshine after a big storm is the most helpful thing for marine life.
Gulf storms, which typically form south of Louisiana, push all of the mosquitoes from the marsh areas south of the Atchafalaya Basin into the basin and wooded areas as well. This is very difficult for mammals, especially cattle and deer. Friedman says that the deer get eaten up by mosquitoes and can lose weight or even famish to death.
As far as plant life and trees, the Atchafalaya Basin is home to some of the hardiest trees in the world. Bald Cypress trees have very strong root systems that provide cover for animals and people alike. “The older generations would tell stories about how our ancestors who lived in houseboats would actually move into the cypress forests for cover during hurricanes,” says Friedman. He also noted that the roots of the Cypress trees are very strong and unlikely to break during a hurricane, but that willow trees are more at risk because their root systems are very shallow.
“The Basin has a way of healing itself after a major storm,” says Friedman. While an event like a fish kill can take up to 2-3 years to completely recover from, the swamp itself is nearly as resilient as it is old and beautiful. To book a tour of the majestic Atchafalaya Basin, call 337.228.7880 or visit us online at basinlanding.com.