A Field Seminar in Photos, Part IV: Louisiana

Immersed in the incredible culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana, doing hands-on science in the marshes and bayous, it was impossible to not fall in love with the place. The people of Louisiana are incredibly resilient and strong — qualities they need to battle the impossible odds of a changing world.

This photo essay is by Fall 2019 student Johann Heupel. Johann is a Marine Science and Maritime Studies student at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point and a long-time aficionado of the history of our relationship to the sea. Having grown up in Mystic Connecticut, Johann’s future interests lie somewhere in educating a new generation about the wonders of the sea and our fascination with it, sharing maritime culture through art, science, song, and story.

This post is part of a series of photo essays depicting the Fall 2019 semester. For the complete series, click here

We began our semester by exploring the wilderness of the Pacific Coast and sailing a tall ship on the Atlantic Coast. Our last field seminar as a class was to learn about America’s Gulf Coast: a place where complex history and culture meets the science and threats of the modern age.

Flying into Louisiana in the pouring rain, our first hours in the south were spent coming to terms with the most difficult aspect of American history: slavery. Walking through the historic Whitney Plantation museum, the unpleasant, stark reality of slavery was poignant. As we peered into slave cabins, or heard from interpreters, it became clear that the basis for the bustling maritime city of New Orleans – and the entire state of Louisiana – was built on the backs of enslaved people.

image, in black and white, shows students gathered, somber, around cells that once held enslaved people

(Above) Williams-Mystic students peer into cells at the Whitney Plantation that once held enslaved people.

Soon we found ourselves in Thibodaux touring the bayou with ZZ Loupe, who has known Williams Mystic since he was a child. We searched the bayou for alligators and egrets, as ZZ shared his deep knowledge of all the local creatures and environment with us. Whether it was the baby alligators in his pens he let us hold, the alligator snapping turtle he deftly handled, or the large boas he draped over us, ZZ had a personal connection to the animals and habitat of the bayou.

Image shows local tour guide ZZ Loupe gesturing at the helm of a pontoon boat in the bayou, while Williams-Mystic students look on

(Above) ZZ Loupe, swamp guide and former wrestler, gives Williams-Mystic a swamp tour.

We spent most of the field seminar living at LUMCON, an innovative scientific and educational facility located directly on the marsh. With the expertise of Steven Goodbred — a specialist in the sedimentary dynamics of deltas and wetlands — we learned about the way the landscape had been shaped over thousands of years, and we got the opportunity to observe and study the local ecology. 

An alligator perches on a log in a verdant bayou

(Above) Small American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in the bayous of Thibodaux.

All around us the impact of sea-level rise on nature was clear, particularly was we talked to local people. We met with Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. She shared how erosion and flooding threaten her tribe’s way of life, as trees die from saltwater inundation and ancestral graves are washed away. In Grand Isle, a town on the state’s only inhabited barrier island, town supervisor Christopher Hernandez showed us how entire beaches have been washed away by wave action, as he demonstrated the pump system to cope with their dire situation. Carl Sevin, captain of LUMCON’s RV Acadiana, explained his fear that his way of life was disappearing, as he watches his town submerge and his subsistence lifestyle fade away. 

The stories of the people we talked to were incredibly powerful. Hearing the fear and urgency of local residents underscored how climate change has universal impacts. Whether it was oyster processors struggling to fill their quotas due to freshwater inundation of the Gulf, local residents with threatened homes and livelihoods, or the residents of New Orleans coping with constant flooding, everyone faced the realities of a changing world. Immersed in the incredible culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana, doing hands-on science in the marshes and bayous, it was impossible to not fall in love with the place. The people of Louisiana are incredibly resilient and strong — qualities they need to battle the impossible odds of a changing world.

image shows a snowy egret soaring through a deep blue sky

(Above) Snowy Egret flies overhead at LUMCON. 

In Williams-Mystic Marine & Coastal Policy Research Group, Fall 2018 Students Put Learning into Action

In Fall 2018, Williams-Mystic students are working with partner organizations to come up with concrete solutions to real-world marine and coastal policy issues.

For most college students, early December means late nights spent studying in the library and early mornings spent poring over exam booklets.

For Fall 2018 students at Williams-Mystic, the end of the semester might involve recommending sustainable oyster farming methods to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, or suggesting ways the California State Lands Commission can incorporate social justice into its plans for coping with sea level rise.

These are just two examples of how Fall 2018 students have, as part of their marine policy class, partnered with outside organizations to craft solutions to real-world marine and coastal policy issues.

The students are working as part of the Williams-Mystic Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group, made up of four small teams. Each small group partners with a different organization. This semester, these client organizations included: Save the Bay, an environmental advocacy group for Rhode Island’s Narraganset Bay; the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, a nonprofit land conservation organization focused on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; the California State Lands Commission; and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a nonprofit marine science center and research institute.

Each team completed research that culminated in a policy brief, which offers concrete solutions for the small group’s client organization to implement.

In crafting these policy briefs, the student researchers drew on knowledge from their marine policy class. They interviewed dozens of stakeholders, including attorneys, congressional staffers, commercial fishermen, and scientists.

The students also incorporated knowledge from a variety of disciplines. The group working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, for instance, used a variety of ecological models to assess how oyster aquaculture might affect coastal ecosystems in Maine. Students working with the California State Lands Commission, meanwhile, investigated tools the Commission could use to identify environmental justice communities.

This week, the students’ work culminated not just in four policy briefs (look below to read the briefs in full!), but also in presentations to each of the four client organizations. At several of these organizations, students connected with Williams-Mystic alumni, including Jonathan Labaree (S’84) at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

IMG_4914 2
A research team presents their findings to the Narragansett Baykeeper and policy and legal staff from Save the Bay. They explored how the advocacy organization can partner with scientists, fishermen, and other stakeholders to improve how fisheries stock are managed.
For the client organizations, the presentations and briefs were an opportunity to learn more about issues they might not have had the time and resources to delve into otherwise.
For the student researchers, the projects have been a chance to learn by incorporating knowledge from a wide range of disciplines in order to solve real-world problems — and to meet people active in marine and coastal policy from across the country while doing so.
You can read the students’ briefs for yourself below:
To hear more, you can also attend the Williams-Mystic Marine and Coastal Policy Research Group’s public presentations!
The presentations will take place on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 from 9–11 am in the Masin Room of the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Thompson Exhibition Building. (Simply ask visitor reception staff at the Museum for directions to the Williams-Mystic presentations when you arrive.)