One April morning in 2016, Daryl Carpenter, a charter boat captain out of Grand Isle, La., took some clients to catch redfish on a marsh pond that didn’t use to exist. Coastal erosion and rising seas are submerging a football field’s worth of Louisiana land every hour, creating and expanding ponds and lakes such as the one onto which Carpenter had piloted his 24-foot vessel.
Suddenly, another boat pulled up beside Carpenter’s. “You’re trespassing,” the other driver declared, before chasing him and his clients down the bayou. The sheriff’s office later threatened to arrest Carpenter if he ever returned to the pond. There was just one problem: Under Louisiana state law, any waterways that are accessible by boat are supposed to be public property, argued Carpenter—even what was previously unnavigable swampland.