The Alternative Winter Break team was asked to answer the
question "Why Save the Louisiana Wetlands?"
For many undergraduates, a trip to Louisiana centers on New
Orleans and its fabled nightlife. Not so for 16 University at
Buffalo students who earlier this month spent a week volunteering
in the wetlands of southern Louisiana.
Part of UB’s annual alternative winter break that emphasis
hands-on service work, the trip was facilitated by the Center for
Student Leadership and Community Engagement, the Office of
Sustainability, and Student Life.
It brought students to the bayou and into the heart of Cajun
culture. In addition to learning how to pick apart crawfish and the
finer points of zydeco music, the students were educated on the
environmental, cultural and economic issues facing southern
The students flew on Jan. 5 from Buffalo to New Orleans, where
the temperatures hovered in the mid-50s. Vans took them to Chauvin,
a small fishing community about 50 miles southwest, where they
stayed at Bayou Grace Community Services, a social services
The following day, spent at the Louisiana State Museum’s
Hurricane Katrina exhibit in New Orleans, served as a welcome and
orientation for the work that lay ahead, said Jim Simon, UB
sustainability engagement coordinator, who helped organize and
co-lead the trip.
Students woke Jan. 7 at 6:30 a.m. to ready for a day on the
water. With temperatures still in the 50s and high winds, the
weather offered little respite from the snow in Buffalo. Offered by
the Louisiana Marine Universities Consortium, the daytrip proved
special as dolphins swam near the boat and students got a firsthand
look at shrimp, squid, puffer fish and other marine life found in
The day also included a stop at the Isle of Jean Charles, home
to roughly two dozen Native American families who, despite the
island slowly and steadily sinking into the Gulf, are determined to
The students again traveled by boat the following day -- only
this time they planted roughly 1,000 plants at strategic locations
in the Gulf. The plants serve many purposes including, but not
limited to, helping to keep flood waters at bay, creating habitat
for fish and birds, and filtering nutrients to improve water
The next day, as the temperature neared 70, students bundled 250
Christmas trees and placed them into pens along the Intracoastal
Waterway, which serves as navigational route along the Gulf Coast
and Atlantic Ocean. The trees create a barrier which slows down and
ultimately reduces the loss of sediment in the waterway.
Students also toured a swamp, getting a close look at alligators
and an impromptu lesson in Cajun music, which is characterized by
fiddles, washboards, accordions and French lyrics. The final two
days were spent working in the Gulf’s delicate ecosystem,
Brianne Gertin, a senior majoring in environmental design, said
in an email that it was the people of southern Louisiana who left
the greatest impression on her.
“Even after everything that has happened there
(hurricanes, oil spills, coastal erosion) they refuse to give up
because they can't imagine living anywhere else. Louisiana isn't
just a state, it’s a way of life, a unique culture and
environment that you can't find anywhere else, so to be able to go
down there and help preserve it is amazing,” she said.
It was the second consecutive year that UB students volunteered
in southern Louisiana during winter break, an effort UB hopes to
“UB is building relationships with the amazing people of
southern Louisiana. The change we create is quickly becoming
lasting,” Simon said.