Above Image: Christian “Alex” White, a Southeastern history graduate student, is shown researching and recording artifacts discovered at Pass Manchac, some from over 3,000 years ago, at Southeastern’s Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies. The artifacts are included in the Manchac Swamp / Turtle Cove artifacts exhibition that appears at both the Center and at the Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station at Manchac. The artifacts provide documentation and evidence of the lifestyles and cultures of different inhabitants throughout the swamp’s history described in Troubled Waters: Turtle Cove and the Manchac Swamp Ecosystem, a new documentary produced by the Southeastern Channel. 

How history and science intertwine Manchac Swamp with Southeastern’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station is highlighted by a new display of swamp artifacts and a new documentary produced by Southeastern titled Troubled Waters: Turtle Cove and the Manchac Swamp Ecosystem.

“The Manchac Swamp has played a prominent role in the history and culture of the Northshore, and it continues to impact the lives of residents economically, recreationally and environmentally with the protection it provides,” said Southeastern Channel General Manager and executive producer of the show Rick Settoon. “It’s important for generation after generation to know its history. This documentary is a powerful, educational tool that shows what the Manchac Swamp was, what it is now, how it got to this point, and what’s being done about it.”

The documentary’s story of the swamp begins with its earliest indigenous inhabitants, Native Americans, and the earliest Europeans, 16th century French settlers led by the explorer D’Iberville. It follows the swamp’s role and involvement in conflicts from the French and Indian War to the West Florida Revolt and finally the Civil War.

“The fact that it was such an enormous and impenetrable, forested wetland that served so many different peoples and their cultures and helped serve the purpose of many of their livelihoods makes it an extraordinary part of our history in this region,” said Rob Moreau, director of Southeastern’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station and the show’s producer and narrator.

The program also reveals the post-Civil War industrialization and exploitation of the Manchac Swamp, including its eventual decimation by the cypress logging industry and cypress-eating nutria.

“The Manchac Swamp is a changed ecosystem vastly degraded from what it once was, a marsh now that is moving further towards open water instead of a dense cypress forest that is of highest ecological value,” Moreau said.

The program spotlights artifacts recovered from Pass Manchac that have been assembled into new exhibits at both Southeastern’s Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies in Sims Memorial Library and Turtle Cove, which continues to conduct scientific research and collect critical data from the coastal wetlands, along with managing swamp cleanup and reforestation.

The artifacts include arrowheads, pottery, and tools used by the earliest inhabitants to survive in the swamp. There are also Civil War items, maps, and leases along with saw blades, timber tools, and photographs of sawmills and massive cypress trees representing the magnitude of the swamp’s destruction during the logging years of the 1800s through the mid-1950s.

“The artifacts shown in the film and the two physical exhibits represent and bring into focus the human interaction with this natural environment,” Moreau said. “A big part of the history of the Manchac Swamp is the ultimate devastation brought upon it by humans. This provides a strong incentive moving forward for current and future generations to be better stewards of not only the Manchac Swamp, but our global environment as well.”

Settoon said Troubled Waters features historical drawings, archival photographs and footage of the Manchac Swamp from centuries past, including old black-and-white film of the early stages of the cypress logging industry with workers chopping down cypress trees and transporting them via pull-boat barges and rafts through the swamp to sawmills.

The program uses 3D and traditional animation techniques to bring to life scenes from different periods throughout the swamp’s history and includes interviews with Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies Director Sam Hyde, retired Southeastern History Professor Charles Dranguet, Turtle Cove Caretaker Hayden Reno, Southeastern Foundation Board Member Mike Sharp, and Entergy Director of Environmental Strategy Rick Johnson.

The documentary was written, directed and edited by Southeastern Channel Operations Manager Steve Zaffuto.

“It was very important to link these unique artifacts to the surprisingly rich history of the Manchac area,” Zaffuto said. “Through the use of interviews, location videography, and a few animated sequences, we were hopefully able to identify Turtle Cove as not only a vital center of environmental research, but also an interactive historical landmark.”

The show presents footage of educational activities, public outreach, scientific research and swamp restoration efforts at Turtle Cove along with the artifact collection being assembled and then unveiled at a Turtle Cove fundraising event.

“We like to think of ourselves as ‘stewards’ of the wetlands and as the ‘public voice’ of Manchac and all that it is—past, present, and future,” Moreau said of his Turtle Cove operation.

The artifacts were obtained from the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies, including the Wiley H. Sharp, Jr. Collection of Southeastern Indian Artifacts. Mike Sharp, retired Hammond banker and brother of the late Wiley Sharp Jr., suggested that the artifacts be organized into an exhibit at Turtle Cove to display the findings and help explain the history of the region. The display was unveiled at a fundraising event to support Turtle Cove’s operation and environmental restoration efforts.

“We are losing an enormous amount of acreage every year to storm surges, saltwater intrusion, pollution, and a variety of other factors, and these swamps and marshes provide barrier island protection from storms,” Sharp says in the documentary. “We want to educate the public in terms of the importance of research and the preservation and conservation of our priceless hardwood bottomland swamps and marshes.”

Click here to watch Troubled Waters.

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