Reviews for Holding back the sea: the struggle for America's natural legacy on the Gulf Coast

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Southern Louisiana?s vast wetlands are on the skids, and Hallowell (Writing/CUNY) explains the reasons behind their impending demise?and the halting steps being taken to bring them back to life. Down where the Mississippi empties itself into the Gulf of Mexico are the wetlands of Louisiana, a wild tangle of grass, bayou, marsh, and swamp that has sustained a unique culture for hundreds of years. As Hallowell (Green Perspectives, not reviewed) understands the place, it is also an indicator landscape, a measure of our environmental regard, for this poor cousin to purple mountain?s majesty has until recently been thought of as wasteland, and how we treat the disenfranchised aptly conveys our concern for the greater whole. We haven?t done too well by the wetlands. The entire coastal system is tilting into the Gulf and with it is sinking a whole way of life, from food to music, businesses to language. The reasons for the land?s subsidence are understandable: a ?combination of the Mississippi?s levees, the rise in sea level, coastal erosion, and salt water intrusion,? but its ?restoration is one thing in fact, another in practice, and highly subject to interpretation.? And not only is history in jeopardy, but so too are the 2,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines now exposed to the storm surge of passing hurricanes, not unknown in these parts. Hallowell lays before us the major players and their visions of the future, and he imparts a sense of the land?s mystery and its anarchy of life?human, plant, and animal. The wetlands emerge in his view as a kind of commons, a place where a variety of human agents work in concert with nature, from oil company canal diggers to shrimpers to Corps engineers to alligator hunters (all of whom he profiles in compact yet mellow style). A fine account, but suspiciously upbeat: Hallowell?s local-boy optimism notwithstanding, the wetlands still hang in a very precarious balance. (8-page photo insert, not seen)