I first visited New Orleans in the summer of 1989. The purpose of the trip was to spend time with my boyfriend in the city, but his plans also included a deep-sea fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. Blessed with seasick tendencies and a lack of fishing experience, I was nervous but nonetheless excited to embark on this adventure. I don’t recall what fish were caught or other details, but I do remember vividly the long boat ride from New Orleans down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the river at Port Eads. Never had I witnessed such an impressive expanse of marsh, water and wildlife, and I was moved by the vastness and beauty of my surroundings. Although I took that trip many more times, I haven’t returned since Hurricane Katrina. I often wonder how sights that were so familiar would look now, if they’ve vanished forever and if we’re doing enough to save them.
We are all familiar with the disturbing land loss statistics of our Louisiana coast and the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. Fortunately, coastal wetlands conservation is becoming a greater priority for our city, state and nation, but there’s still much work to be accomplished in bringing awareness to the urgency of protecting our globally significant ecosystem. Sensing that need, SouthWings has tapped into an alternative method to bolster this awareness of key environmental issues in our area. Headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina, but with a satellite office in New Orleans since 2012, this nonprofit conservation organization provides a network of volunteer pilots who advocate for the restoration and protection of ecosystems and biodiversity of the Southeast through flight.
Using the unique perspective of aerial views, SouthWings has flown thousands of individuals and organizations including local, state and national government officials, policy makers and media to increase the education and understanding of our environmental challenges and successes – including the Gulf oil industry, Gulf ecosystem restoration and coastal climate adaptation.
Associate Executive Director Meredith Dowling continues to be motivated witnessing first-time SouthWings flight passengers exclaim “I had no idea!” and in turn be inspired to do something to help. The information gathering of SouthWings also directly benefits their many conservation nonprofit collaborations by providing a greater understanding of the environmental challenges and opportunities to enable them to strengthen their individual messages. SouthWings partner organizations here in Louisiana include Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Gulf Monitoring Consortium, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Lower 9th Ward CSED, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Vanishing Earth and others.
Relying on Generosity
With over one-third of all SouthWings flights originating in New Orleans, the organization relies on the generosity of local volunteer pilots to fulfill their mission and needs additional pilots. To volunteer, pilots need to have at least 750 hours of Pilot in Command time and either own or have access to an aircraft. “I’m a volunteer pilot who shares concerns for the environmental plight of southern Louisiana, and how this area’s demise may ultimately impact New Orleans and sister coastal communities,” says Ken Knevel. “SouthWings is an inspirational organization that creates the opportunity to combine the joy of flying with the desire to do something, anything, to help stem the tide of losing ground. As an additional benefit, I glean knowledge of ecological causes and effects from the scientists and experts who I fly.”
The powerful stories shared by SouthWings inspire creative change in coastal conservation, helping to save our unique and beautiful Louisiana ecosystem.
A little more …
Become a volunteer pilot, make a donation or just learn more by visiting SouthWings.org