WATERSHED: "That area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."
- John Wesley Powell
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"Louisiana’s wetlands are twice the size of the Everglades National Park, funnel more oil into the US than the Alaskan Pipeline, sustain one of the nation’s largest fisheries, and provide vital hurricane protection for New Orleans. And they are disappearing under the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 33 football fields a day.”
- National Geographic, 2004
We flew the night before from St Louis, MO to New Orleans, LA to continue exploring water stories for the US leg of the Expedition.
On the Lafourche bayou about an hour southwest of New Orleans, the Cajun people have passed along shrimp trawling as a way of life for generations. We timed our visit for the Blessing of the Fleet, an annual tradition at the start of the shrimping season intended to ensure a bountiful harvest and safety on the water.
A dozen wooden boats decorated in American flags, blue and orange banners boasting “Shrimp,” and metallic streamers paraded proudly up and down the 100 foot-wide channel, an offshoot of the Mississippi River.
It takes a minimum of two hours and four buses, each of which travels approximately the length of a tennis court, to cross the border between Jordan and Israel at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. We had just learned that through exhuastive experience.
The two countries enjoy an uneasy peace. Jordan lies along the east side of the Jordan River Valley, Israel and the Palestinian Authority along the west – but they share the river’s valuable and rapidly dwindling freshwater resources.
That day was our last day in Jordan, a country 80 percent covered in desert.
We arrived at the kibbutz in Israel at 2am last night, after 21 hours of travel from Cape Town. Africa is an enormous continent! Flying two hours from Cape Town to Johannesburg, followed by another nine hours direct to Tel Aviv really put things in perspective.
But our exhaustion had quickly transformed into excitement the moment we touched ground. Upon debarking the plane in Tel Aviv, we were met by Olga from VIP services, who whisked us in a private van across the tarmac to security, through immigration, and to our luggage in record time. “I feel like a rock star!” commented Duff.
Four flights and just over 34 hours of travel marked the beginning of the second phase of our 2009 Expedition Blue Planet as we flew halfway around the globe to join the Blue Legacy film crew in Cambodia. What started as a research outline quickly evolved into a five continent expedition dedicated to chronicling the interconnectivity of some of our most critical water stories.
But it wasn’t water that caught my attention as we winged our way above the Mekong River and banked to touch down in Phnom Penh.
Othman Mizra grew up swimming, catching fish, hunting birds, and setting his family’s water buffaloes out to pasture in an oasis. Literally. It was not some fantasy world you read about in storybooks, but an actual living, breathing wetland on the northeastern edge of the dusty, barren expanse of desert that covers much of Jordan.
But that was before humankind turned the Azraq oasis, which locals used to call a paradise, into a mirage. In 11 years flat.
“We lost everything,” said Othman, a broad-shouldered, energetic 65 year-old man whose grandparents emigrated here from Chechnya in 1922
We headed to a slum in Delhi because access to safe drinking water is a constant source of stress for its residents, as it is for 900 million people around the world. Unsafe water leads to health problems from waterborne diseases, which are the second largest cause of death for children under five globally. And with growing numbers of people everywhere migrating from the countryside to cities, where many of them end up living in slums, the problem—from India to Brazil to Nigeria—is only getting worse.
All around us, the one to two-story concrete structures were in decay, stacked precariously
I left from Washington, D.C. at 10 pm on Thursday, February 19, 2009 along with half of the team - Argentinean cameraman Pablo, American writer MeiMei, and American producer Jim. We arrived, exhausted but exuberant with 300 pounds of video, photographic, and computer equipment, in New Delhi at 1:30 am the next day, Sat, Feb 21. The Australian half of the team, Ali, Ben, and Michael (Jocelyn joined us in Botswana) – had already arrived from their adopted home base of Cambodia.
So, why did we take this journey and what did we hope to accomplish?