Few have seen Louisiana's wetlands from the bird's-eye view landscape photographer Ben Depp gets when he flies over in his 21-foot, red-white-and-blue paragliding wing.

Depp resembles a resplendent raptor as he floats 50 feet above the endangered coast, capturing images as he flies, a 200-horsepower-motor-driven propeller strapped to his back.

"Experiencing this place drew me in and kept me exploring," Depp tells viewers in Smithsonian Channel's "Last Call for the Bayou." To watch the official trailer, click here.

The new five-part series on the disappearing delta debuts on the network's digital platforms for free starting Friday. 

Most have heard the staggering figures: 25 square miles of wetlands are lost every year; an area the size of a football field erodes every hour. The Smithsonian project strives to put a face, or faces, on the destruction through the stories of Depp and four others affected by or working to address the catastrophic problem.

Depp, of New Orleans, has flown over the affected coastline about 200 times. 

"I was always intrigued by the barrier islands. It's an interesting landscape that I wanted to fly and photograph," Depp says in his segment titled "On a Wing and a Prayer."

This cluster of thinning land is home to migratory birds and protects the coastal communities — at least for now.

"One major hurricane without that protection of the wetlands, we'll all be finding a new place to live," Depp says about he and his fellow Crescent City residents.

Depp hopes the scientific community can use his images to educate the public on how this complex ecosystem works. 

"In south Louisiana, it feels like you're in some kind of remote wilderness until you get up in the air and then you can see that you're just surrounded by miles and miles of oyster leases, shrimpers trawling; the horizon is just dotted with endless oil rigs," he explains. "Everything is exploited in one way or another."

With more than 10,000 miles of oil pipeline canals slicing through the wetlands, pushing saltwater further into the Mississippi, the vegetation holding this vital land in place is being destroyed.

"When I'm flying, I often have this feeling of overwhelming beauty with this like deep sadness for what's been lost," Depp says. "Two feelings at the same time — constantly."

In the other episodes, filmmakers Dominic and Nadia Gill introduce audiences to:

  • Kasha Clay, who's working with the National Academy of Sciences to record oral histories of her Houma tribal community. She's concerned for her culture as people have moved northward, away from her beloved bayou. The episode is called "South as South Can Go."
  • Dr. Alex Kolker, of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, goes over current restoration projects to ascertain if they are having a positive impact. Will it be enough to save New Orleans from going underwater? Find out more in "Mud, Sweat & Tears." 
  • In "Sink or Swim," shrimper and oysterman Gleason Alexis faces a changing future as saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico wreaks havoc on the local ecosystem and his livelihood. 
  • Albertine Kimble, in "The Duck Queen of Plaquemines Parish," has hunted in the marsh for 40 years, and she'll show viewers her favorite spots. Also a former coastal plan manager, Kimble's account will examine how the dying marsh is disrupting the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route. 

'Last Call for the Bayou'

WHEN: Beginning Friday

WHERE: Free on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and across multiple streaming TV provider websites, apps and free on-demand channels. Also free on smithsonianchannel.com.


Email Judy Bergeron at jbergeron@theadvocate.com.