Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin


Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin includes some 1.4 million acres and is the nation’s largest swamp wilderness with 885,000 acres of forested wetlands and 517,000 acres of marshland.  It contains nationally significant expanses of bottomland hardwoods, swamplands, bayous and back-water lakes. The basin is a 135-mile long natural distributary of the Mississippi River that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. With the Atchafalaya River being one of the five major distributaries of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi discharges 30 percent of its flow into the Atchafalaya River.

Ecologically, the basin has four sections. To the north are woodlands and farmlands. The middle section contains North America’s largest river basin swamp, a natural paradise of exotic plants and animals. The swamp attracts hunters, fishing, and boating enthusiasts, and nature photographers. Farther south is marshland. Finally, where the Atchafalaya River empties into Atchafalaya Bay, and a new delta is being formed.

The vast delta of the Atchafalaya River is a prime wintering habitat for waterfowl, an important breeding bird habitat and supports half of America’s migratory waterfowl.  These marshes and bottomland hardwood forested wetlands provide essential food resources that the migrants store for their long flight.  It contains one of the largest fish crops in the United States, and yields 23 million pounds of crawfish annually.

The Atchafalaya is also considered the most productive swamp in the world and is probably the most productive land in the Northern Hemisphere. It is considered three to five times more productive than the Everglades and the Okefenokee Swamp. It is a natural resource that deserves the same national attention to its preservation as the Everglades.