As the Mississippi River makes its 2,400 mile journey from the north of Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico it crisscrosses 10 states, including Louisiana. From Vermilion Bay in Louisiana all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, the river forms a 3 million acre delta, comprising of a series of wetlands. About 40 percent of all coastal wetlands in the mainland 48 US states are found along the Mississippi River Delta. These wetlands have been built for over thousands of years by the river’s flood waters, which dump vast amounts of sediments accumulated from across 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces along the Mississippi River’s delta.
Along the Mississippi River Delta there are various habitats. These include islands, interior forested wetlands, barrier islands on the Mexican Gulf, freshwater, salt marshes, and brackish water, where there are millions of birds, fish, and wildlife. In the Louisiana part of the delta, there an estimated 400 bird species, and 40 percent of all migratory birds in North America spend time there, according to Restore Mississippi River Delta Initiative. Economically vital fish species like finfish, catfish, trout, redfish, and shellfish are found along this delta, as well as oysters. In the forested wetlands, mammals like the endangered Louisiana black bear are also found here, as well as foxes, coyotes, bobcats, beavers, hogs, muskrats, beavers, and armadillos.
The Mississippi River Delta provides economic livelihood for nearly half of Louisiana population living along the coast, which includes the city of New Orleans. These include Native Americans, Cajuns, Creoles and other races that have settled here, and infused their traditional way of life there. The delta’s coast has a vibrant commercial fisheries industry due to the presence of oysters, shrimps, crabs, crawfish and alligators, along the Mississippi River Delta. According to Louisiana Sea Food, the sea food and fisheries industry is worth $2.4 billion annually in Louisiana, and one of every seventy jobs in the state are from this industry. The private fish and seafood industry enterprises here are generational. Tourism is also vibrant along the Mississippi River delta. The wetlands and forests attract visitors who may want to fish, angle, go boating and birding, and hunt along this vast delta. Offshore oil fields and refineries on the Mexican Gulf are other employment sources to inhabitants along the Mississippi River Delta.
For over a few hundred of years the Mississippi River Delta has faced collapse due to rapid human encroachment, ecological disasters on the river system like the BP oil spill, and natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita. According to Restore Mississippi River Delta Initiative, Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land into open water since 1930s. As the delta collapses, it places humans at risk since it can no longer offer protection against rough Atlantic Ocean water waves from the Mexican Gulf. But there are ongoing restoration efforts along the Mississippi River Delta that are aiding in rebuilding it, including barrier island restoration, marsh creation, ridge restoration, shoreline buffer building, oyster reef restoration, hydrological restoration with freshwater, and sediment diversions.