Swamps are an integral part of life in Louisiana as often showcased by the stereotypical nature scenes that many movies and shows depict when set in the south. But these vast areas that are a mix between water and land are more than just a pretty view. The swamp ecosystem has unparalleled importance that many locals are taught throughout grade school and should be known by everyone.
Among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, swamps act like giant sponges making them a godsend in our climate that is no stranger to rain and storm surges. By absorbing the excess water, swamps can moderate the effects of flooding and protect coastal areas from dangerous storm surges that could harm fragile coastlines. So let’s get technical. What makes a swamp a swamp? By definition, “a swamp is an area of land permanently saturated, or filled, with water.” These in-between ecosystems can hold freshwater or saltwater and are often dominated by trees. Locally, cypress trees have become a symbol of the rich culture and heritage found throughout the state. Wood from these statuesque plants is frequently used for unique furniture pieces or home decor.
Locally, we mostly have freshwater swamps, although sometimes the water is closer to brackish when gulf water finds its way further inshore. A Louisiana swamp wouldn’t be complete without the Spanish moss hanging from the branches and the duckweed covering the water’s surface. Such growth not only makes for a gorgeous scene, but also helps camouflage the many predators and prey that make the swamp their home including alligators, frogs, and many other amphibians, reptiles, and nesting birds. These animals have adapted to the fluctuating water levels and have made the shadowy tree root system and cypress knobs their home.
Not only can swamps mitigate the effects of flooding, the swamp ecosystem filters and purifies water naturally. Plants that thrive in the swampy atmosphere absorb nitrogen and other chemicals that can find their way into water from agricultural or factory runoff. Any chemicals that the plants can’t or won’t absorb slowly sinks to the bottom of the water and are quickly buried in sand and sediment. Similarly, swamps are a valuable asset to local economies and provide locals with the ability to catch and sell the freshest of fish and shellfish that people flock to the area to try.
Unfortunately, swamps and other wetlands have been looked upon as wastelands and homes for pests for most of history. “Almost half of the U.S. wetlands were destroyed before environmental protections were enacted during the 1970s” from filling or draining the swamps. The southern portion of Louisiana felt the effects of fewer swamps when New Orleans and surrounding areas did not have the protection of the swamps that used to be in the delta of the Mississippi River when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in 2005.
To learn more about the importance of the swamp ecosystem and see the beauty for yourself, schedule a swamp tour with Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Swamp Tours.