New Orleans, LA – On the first day of Atlantic Hurricane season, a group of local, national and international scientists, called for bold, aggressive action and offered a visionary long range plan to restore coastal Louisiana and preserve the value of this delicate ecosystem that is at the verge of collapse.
“Without aggressive action to restore its coast, the future is bleak for Louisiana. Even if we can protect populated areas from hurricanes with levees and floodgates, the continued loss of the coastal landscape will pose an increasing threat to the economy and environment of the region. Land loss and flooding will become even more severe as sea-level rise accelerates and storms increase in intensity” said Dr. Denise Reed, a Professor at the University of New Orleans and head of the technical group who authored the report.
In April 2006, a technical group of more than thirty scientists and engineers participated in a symposium entitled “Envisioning the Future of the Gulf Coast.” The group, which included experts in geology, ecology, oceanography, engineering and economics, came from across the United States and as far away as Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Egypt and Australia. For a week in April, this group toured the coast, learned about its environmental and economic importance, shared perspectives and developed their own recommendations. The resulting report is a consensus statement of the entire group.
In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita the issue of Louisiana’s coastal land loss was brought to the international stage. Louisiana is the home to almost 6,000 square miles of coastal wetlands, but they are being lost at an alarming rate – over 230 square miles just in the 1990’s. This vanishing landscape, known as America’s WETLAND, provides critical habitat for thousands of species. The area supports communities and culture and the important energy infrastructure that clings to Louisiana’s tattered coast.
Joris Geurts van Kessel with the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Rijkswaterstaat – National Institute for Coastal and Marine Management in the Netherlands said “I am proud to be part of this international technical group and present this important report. Louisiana and the Netherlands have similar problems, and we are suggesting that Louisiana take bold steps to rebuild its wetlands to ensure the sustainability of its ecosystem, society and economy.”
The report developed by the technical group outlines three scenarios for the future of America’s WETLAND – Continuing Current Management, Achieving a Sustainable Louisiana, and Achieving Sustainability and Addressing Local Restoration Needs and provides maps that outline suggested restoration activities.
Continuing Current Management highlights the fact that without aggressive action in the short term, the long-term outlook for the coast is bleak – higher and wider levees, haphazard retreat, and substantial loss of precious habitat and protection for the nation’s energy infrastructure.
Achieving a Sustainable Louisiana outlines the urgent need to capture and divert the 120 million tons of Mississippi River sediment a year that now falls uselessly off the continental shelf in the deep Gulf waters. The idea is to redirect the main flow of sediment and freshwater from the river and allow waves and tides to re-establish a mosaic of wetlands, shallow bays and barrier islands.
Achieving Sustainability and Addressing Local Restoration shows how, with utilization of all available Mississippi River sediments as the base, the existing plans for coastal restoration, such as those put forth in the Louisiana Coastal Area study, can address local restoration needs.
The report and maps is a product of Envisioning the Future of the Gulf Coast: Using Engineering and Science to Protect Communities, the Economy, and the Ecosystem – A Symposium for Action held in April 2006 that was sponsored by BP in cooperation with the America’s WETLAND Foundation. For more information on the symposium, please visit, www.futureofthegulfcoast.org.
The America’s WETLAND campaign was launched by the State of Louisiana in order to raise national awareness of the impact the state’s wetland loss has on the state, nation and world. By educating the public about the emergency situation created by the state’s land loss and the region’s world ecological significance and importance to national economic and energy security, the campaign aims to gain support for its efforts to conserve and save coastal Louisiana.
The initiative is supported by a growing coalition of world, national and state conservation and environmental organizations and has drawn private support from businesses that see wetlands protection as a key to economic growth.