Local Wisdom along the Louisiana Coast


January 11, 2021 by Dr. G

When you think of the Louisiana coast, images of a burning marsh probably don’t enter your mind. But fire plays an important role in protecting and increasing the health of marsh ecosystems along the Gulf coast.

This is a video I created with the background and description of the quilt – enjoy and share!

This quilt was inspired by two events in December 2018 – a visit I made to Avery Island, Louisiana, the home of the TABASCO Factory, and a story I read written by environmental reporter Tristan Baurick and published by NOLA.com The Times-Picayune that same month. And it was this phrase in the article, “If you don’t burn your marsh, you’re going to lose it” – that I made the center of the story represented in this quilt – literally, at the center!

Phrase, if you don't burn your marsh, you're going to lose it

The panels of fabric around the center are cut as simple squares on point, with the pattern in each fabric taking the viewer through Baurick’s story, “Fire emerges as an ally in the fight to save Louisiana’s marsh.”

Let’s start with the Tabasco factory in Avery Island, where Tabasco burns half of their 30,000 acres of marsh each year. It is just one of many locations along the Gulf Coast that is combating sea-level rise, coastal subsidence, and erosion. The vegetation is being impacted, especially from the wave energy during storm surges. But the locals have found a way to use fire to help, not hurt the marsh. Granted, lightning strikes have generated natural fires in this region throughout time. But, as these fire hats represent, setting a prescribed burn in certain areas during certain times of the year actually strengthens the land by hardening it. Once the smoke clears and the sun starts to shine, nutrient-rich soil develops from the ash and new seeds begin to sprout. The grasses grow back in thicker, greener patches, and are attractive to smaller birds and other wildlife. Larger birds of prey can easily swoop in to feed on mice and insects now exposed.

I am hoping that this quilt helps others view fire as not just a destructive process, but as a constructive event. Here, the Gulf Coast ecosystem is not under a threat from fire, but a combination of the natural and prescribed burns that have been taking place for generations provides a lifeline for its plants and animals, strengthening the marsh and increasing wildlife abundance. It seems that one way to combat coastal subsidence is to watch, to listen, and to learn from what locals have been doing and saying all along.

Quilt was completed on January 3, 2021, and measures 34 inches tall by 39 inches wide. Embroidery of center block was done by Deb’s Custom Creations Embroidery.

One thought on “Local Wisdom along the Louisiana Coast

  1. […] Role of Local Wisdom in Marsh Protection (blog post, YouTube […]


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Day 5 of #DayOfScience @scienceathon! I started with the Penn State Water Council, connected with my undergrad student researcher, then gave a campus presentation on my sabbatical work last year, which included #SciQuilt, leading a pod w/the URGE (Unlearning Racism in Geoscience) program, & volunteering with the @americangeophysicalunion
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