What began as a documentary aimed at highlighting the dangers of shrinking wetlands in LA at the mouth of the Mississippi, became a living testament of the project's message. In the midst of the filming, Katrina roared into the Gulf of Mexico slamming into NOLA with unprecedented force, creating the costliest natural disaster in the United States history. I would describe this film as disturbingly beautiful.
The music resonating from New Orleans and the state of Louisiana is legendary for its optimism in the face of adversity. This rich musical heritage formed the back drop to the film's theme with five musicians representing each of the musical styles found in Louisiana.
Directed by Greg Mac Gullivray, Meryl Streep narrated the factual details while Tab Benoit and Amanda Shaw told the human and ecological story. Tab Benoit, deep delta bluesman, is known for his commitment toward saving the fragile ecological systems in the Louisiana Bayou and wetlands. Amanda Shaw, already an accomplished Cajun fiddler at the age of 14 when the film was made, brought a youthful perspective. Chubby Carrier, oldest son of Roy Carrier and a respected Zydeco artist in his own right, Allen Toussiant, jazz piano man and producer, and Marva Wright, traditional gospel artist were also featured in this documentary. These musicians have continued on with their message of hope to save the ecological systems and rebuild the city of NOLA which efforts continue to this day.
Ecologically, the containment of the Mississippi through levees has prevented the rich soils from fulfilling its purpose of continuous rebuilding of the wetlands. In the last 50 years, erosion has shrunk the wetlands land mass by an acreage measuring as large as the state of Delaware. Katrina alone washed away 100 square miles of soil.
Why is this important? Each 3 miles of low lying wetlands softens the blow of a hurricane's surge by 1 ft. Hurricanes are powered by warm ocean waters, as it strikes land, the energy fizzles with nothing to feed it. With the wetlands gone, the warm Gulf waters strengthen the storm's power with no speed bump to break its back before reaching populated lands. These conditions are what allowed Katrina to draw its power from the Loop Current that was 2 degrees warmer than normal and build to a massive storm measuring 200 miles in diameter and reaching category 5 strength.
The film walks you through Katrina's devastation and its impact on the people and the costs to the seafood industry. You hear and see the suffering first hand from Amanda's and Tab's perspective. The warning is clear that if we don't become stewards of the environment, this history would likely be repeated unless conditions change. The film concludes with actionable solutions for rebuilding the protective wetlands.
• plant mangroves and other soil retaining plants on existing lands masses
• use store walls as a barrier to erosion
• manually replenish land masses continuously with sand and soil
• engineer flood gates and special pipelines to channel the natural soils flowing down the muddied Mississippi to once again naturally replenish the wetlands
• seek innovative solutions through research
The problem isn't Louisiana's to bear alone. The entire Gulf coast is at stake. The cost to the US and its population is enormous in a trickle down effect on insurance premiums and seafood pricing to name two. As a nation we rise up and contribute to world disasters, but the aid to NOLA was paltry. This film isn't to simply raise awareness but it is a call to action. Will you act?
For ways to help:
USGS National Wetlands Research Center
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
Save Vanishing Wetlands How to make a difference on Vacation