Faces of the Delta: Mike Hymel
“Faces of the Delta” is a community profile series that shines light on the diverse and unique cultures of Southeast Louisiana. During the next few months, readers will learn what coastal Louisiana means to a fisherman on the bayou, a faith leader in the Vietnamese community of New Orleans East, a teacher in the Lower 9th Ward, and many more community leaders who know that restoring the coastal wetlands of Louisiana is key to community recovery after the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster, as well as the prosperity of the nation. Share these profiles and give others the inside look at the heart of coastal Louisiana. – Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Location: Barataria, Louisiana
Occupation: Former commercial fisherman (displaced by Hurricane Katrina); currently a construction supervisor. Also, a singer/songwriter and maker of a seasoning blend!
Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born and raised in New Orleans (Mid-City).
What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means home.
What are your favorite things about the area? Food. Music. Culture. Sustainable natural resources (like fisheries).
How has coastal land loss impacted your life? It put me out of the shrimping business. It destroyed my boat, which [during the storm] was anchored in a place historically protected from storm surge, but the surge was too fast and high due to lack of coastal wetlands.
In general, it makes us more vulnerable to storm surge and it’s preceding the collapse of fisheries.
Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is most important because it provides flood protection and maintains the ecology we depend on for fisheries. This has a huge economic impact. The coast is also an important aspect of culture — catching food is extremely important to people on the coast.
To me, the most crucial projects are barrier island restoration and maintenance: necking down passes (making them smaller), interior marsh restoration, shoreline protection and freshwater diversions.
What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Politics
What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? I fear losing storm surge protection and our fisheries.
What should people around the country know about efforts to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding communities and to protect this area from another powerful storm that they don’t know right now? One-third of commercial seafood comes from south Louisiana. New Orleans is an economic engine for the country with the fifth largest port. Coastal Louisiana restoration can serve as an economic boom for the country during this recession and perform a range of much needed work in various fields.
New Orleans and south Louisiana were chosen as a settlement because it was far enough from the Gulf and the river formed high places to live. The location was protected in the midst of a rich ecosystem. Indians from thousands of years ago lived here because the place thrived and you could live off of the land and be out of the water. Now we are in a constant state of land loss. A cultural phenomenon is being lost. Other people wouldn’t want to lose their culture.