Sunday, August 27, 2006

Louisiana's beleaguered wetlands

Louisiana's Crowded Coast
Blue lines represent offshore oil pipelines, orange dots
are oil and gas platforms, purple dots depict oil and gas wells
(click graphic to enlarge)
National Geographic, October 2004
Less than a year before Hurricane Katrina, A 2004 National Geographic article warned: "Louisiana's wetlands disappear under the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 33 football fields a day". Today engineers and environmentalists agree that this loss of protective marshes and barrier islands has increased the region's coastal communities vulnerability to storm surges and flooding associated with hurricanes, and certainly played a role in Katrina's devastating impact.

In the final part of Spike Lee's HBO documentary "When The Levees Broke" John Barry, author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood and How It Changed America stresses that "One of the main reasons New Orleans has become vulnerable to hurricanes is because the wetlands have been eroded."

Later in the same documentary Dr. Ivor Van Heerden, Director of Hurricane Public Research, LSU Hurricane Center expands on Barry's comment. He says, "Wetlands reduce storm surges when hurricanes come by. Over the years in order to expand oil and gas infrastructure (pictured above), thousands of miles of canals have been dredged to accommodate pipelines, drilling and navigation. We are starving our wetlands to death."

In fact, Louisiana is losing its wetlands faster than any place in the United States. A $14 billion plan has been proposed to save what remains. (GW)

Read the National Geographic online version of the 2004 article here.


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