A mysterious agricultural pest is laying waste to the coastline of Louisiana, and the potential consequences are dire. The plague has only been on the radar of researchers and environmental science experts for the last few months, and they don’t even have the organism responsible fully identified at this point.
In the meantime, large sections of coastal marshland grasses that are crucial habitat for species of juvenile fish that spawn in the brackish backwaters have been decimated over the winter of 2016/17, along with the anchoring root systems of the plants that keep the Delta marshlands from washing away.
Roseau cane is an incredibly hardy coastal tall grass that has more in common with bamboo than Kentucky bluegrass. It is pervasive on the Gulf coast from Texas to Florida, and there is some debate as to whether the majority of it is an indigenous specie, or was been introduced from Europe long ago. In either case, ecologists recognize that it provides the fundamental basis for the biology of brackish water wetlands, providing soil retention during both saltwater storm tides and rain floods off the mainland, water purification through uptake via dense mats of root tubules, and shelter for the fingerlings of species such as redfish and speckled trout.
Outfitter Eric Newman (Journey South Outfitters) helped publicize the problem when he brought reporter Tristan Baurick into the marsh to see the problem firsthand.
According to NOLA.com / Times Picayune, “Roseau cane, a wetland grass considered vital to the health of Louisiana’s precarious coast, is dying at an unprecedented rate in south Plaquemines Parish. Since fall, thousands of acres of cane across about 50 miles of the lower Mississippi Delta have gone from green to brown. Many areas, such as the one Newman found Friday (April 7) near Venice, are now shallow, open water.”
“The likely cause: a foreign bug that’s sucking the life-giving juices out of the cane. State and university scientists have been trying for weeks to identify the species, thought to be a type of scale or mealybug. As yet there is no plan…