Recently, Brooke Ross, editor of Weekly Reader News, took a trip with Destrehan’s Harry Hurst Middle Wetland Watchers Service-Learning group. The purpose of this trip was to explore more about the issues and impacts of the BP Gulf oil spill to the people and wildlife of Louisiana from a kid’s perspective. The trip involved 14 students ranging from fourth grade to ninth grade representing five schools from St. Charles Parish and two schools from Lafourche Parish.
“Service-Learning is all about learning from experts and experiences,” said Hurst teacher and Wetland Watchers Coordinator Barry Guillot. “It is not safe to take the students near the oil affected areas, but it was great for all of the students to have a chance to interact with experts to gain a better understanding of what is happening. It was extremely valuable that we were able to include students from Galliano. Hearing firsthand from kids living right next to the oiled beaches added a whole new perspective to our discussions.”
The group took a day trip to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to visit with University of New Orleans – Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences Education Director Dinah Maygarden where they discussed how the oil could impact the Pontchartrain ecosystem and the fragile wetlands along its shoreline. They also discussed the impacts the oil spill is having in the Gulf of Mexico to the ecosystem and the economic effects on the people whose livelihoods and culture surround the healthy gulf fisheries.
“I am upset that the people of south Louisiana that have been fishing for generations will be forced to find other income,” said Destrehan ninth-grader Courtney Parker. “This disaster has to be putting a strain on these families. The fisherman’s way of life revolves around the seafood industry which looks like it will be seriously damaged.”
“Just think about how the tourism is hurt.” said sixth-grader Ethan Rogers. “It makes me feel sad because we can’t go fishing in certain places or go to the beach for vacation.”
The group then traveled to the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas where aviculturalist Tom Dyer gave students a close-up view of some of the sea turtles rescued from the oil spill. They also explored the aquarium’s role in rehabilitation process. With the huge Gulf of Mexico Gallery aquarium in the background, Dyer explained possible impacts of the oil and dispersants on the entire food chain in the Gulf starting with the smallest organisms.
“I had no idea they fed the sea turtles mayonnaise to get the oil out of their systems!” said Destrehan ninth-grader Ian Rogers.
“I cannot believe the pelicans were just coming back from being endangered,” said sixth-grader Nathan Compton. “Now, so many of the pelicans won’t survive the oil.”
“I am concerned about our livelihood never being the same not only for my family but for generations to come in South Louisiana and the many ways of life we loved about our area being destroyed.” said Galliano sixth-grader Gracie Ballenger, “My Dad has been trawling since 1976 as a young boy, and this is the first year he has not been able to trawl in 34 years due to the disaster in the gulf. I don’t know if my Dad will ever be able to make a living trawling again much less bring home fresh Louisiana seafood again and it not taste the oil.”
“My trip to Louisiana during the height of the BP oil spill was eye-opening. I spoke to so many scientists and environmentalists, yet hearing what local students had to say about the disaster stands out most to me.” said Ross, “I was so impressed by the intelligent, environment-conscious young members of the Wetland Watchers, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about their concerns and hopes for the future of the Gulf coast.”
The story is scheduled to be featured in Weekly Reader’s September Back-To-School issue. The Wetland Watchers Service-Learning project is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Serve Commission in the Office of Lieutenant Governor.
Wetland Watchers Park is located near the Bonnet Carre Spillway located in Norco, Louisiana
Directions to our site from Baton Rouge
Take I-10 East from Baton Rouge
Exit I-10 via ramp at sign reading “Exit I-310 S to Boutte/Houma” and go Southwest for 3 miles
Exit I-310 via ramp at sign reading “Exit 2 US-61 to Kenner/Norco”
Continue on Hwy 61 (Airline Hwy) for 5.5 miles to the Bonnet Carre Spillway
Do not cross the Spillway Bridge
Take a right onto the Bonnet Carre Spillway’s East Guide levee
Continue on the levee road for appx. 2.5 miles.
This is a shell road, but it will be graded before your arrival.
You will be forced to turn off the levee to travel under a railroad trestle and the I-10 overpass.
You will see everything once you pass under I-10!
Directions from N. Causeway Blvd to the Bonnet Carre Spillway
1. Merge onto I-10 W toward BATON ROUGE. 7.7 miles
2. Merge onto I-310 S via EXIT 220 toward BOUTTE/HOUMA. 2.9 miles
3. Merge onto AIRLINE HWY/US-61 via EXIT 2 toward NORCO 6.5 miles
4. Pass by the chemical plants and on your left you will see the Spillway Bar and a Shell Station. Directly across the street from the Shell Station is the Spillway’s East Guide Levee. Turn right onto the levee and drive 2.5 miles following the levee road underneath I-10 to Lake Pontchartrain and you will see Wetland Watchers Park on your right!