Build Up Wetlands, Save The Hot Sauce

Tabasco Hot Sauce

Image: Zone41/CC-BY-ND-2.0

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Louisiana loses almost a football field of land each day, caused by a combination of climate change-fueled sea level rise, reduced sediment flow from the Mississippi River, and the land gradually sinking. One area that’s not slipping underwater: Avery Island, the birthplace of Tabasco hot sauce that’s still the company’s home. Volunteers have planted marsh grass across 30,000 acres, which protect the island — and communities farther inland — from erosion and storm surges. The company has also filled in canals created by oil companies with marsh grass, a process that takes about a decade to complete. 

Why This Matters: The land that Louisiana is “losing” is wetland becoming part of the ocean, in this case, the Gulf of Mexico.

Restoring wetland marsh grass like Tabasco is doing helps slow floodwaters, which is especially important as climate change makes hurricanes storm surges stronger and rainfall more intense.

  • It’s an incredibly absorbent ecosystem: a single football field of wetland can store about 1 million gallons of water.
  • Wetlands are important not only for keeping rising water at bay but also for the state’s commercial fisheries: about 75% of fish and shellfish need wetlands to survive.

The Mississippi River Could Prevent Louisiana from Becoming the Gulf: To slow the state’s steady loss of land, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers got the go-ahead this March to channel the Mississippi River into the Barataria Basin south of New Orleans. By allowing the river to flow into the basin, it will deposit sediment that will ultimately build up to create new land. This diversion is a massive ecosystem re-engineering project that is projected to keep 550 square miles of land from becoming seawater over the next half-century. It will be paid for in part by BP as part of the oil company’s remediation funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

As Grist reports, the stakes are high: the rapid conversion of the state’s wetlands into saltwater already risks making New Orleans into a coastal city. “It makes folks living along the coast more vulnerable to tropical storms, hurricanes, and storm surge. It threatens to wipe away huge swaths of Louisiana’s tourism industry and indigenous species of flora and fauna. And it will eventually force millions of Louisiana residents to flee their homes.”

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