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Louisiana wetlands loss continues, decrease not as dramatic

June 17, 2011 |  3:46 pm

Efforts to slow the dramatic loss of Louisiana wetlands appear to be paying off, according to a new study by federal scientists.

A report released by the U.S. Geological Survey this month found that the rate of wetland loss has decreased substantially since the 1970’s.

During that decade, heavy dredging for oil fields and other development destroyed 40 square miles a year of coastal wetlands. Between 1985 and 2004, that figure dropped to 11.7 square miles, thanks to restoration efforts, stricter regulation and milder hurricane seasons.

Marsh creation projects, shoreline protection and sediment dispersal in the past two decades have helped sustain wetlands, said geographer Brady Couvillion at the USGS National Wetlands Research Center. “This was a period where a majority of these projects were on the ground, and it coincided  with a period where we focused on more heavily regulated oil and gas pipelines and development,” he said.

A series of destructive hurricanes -- Katrina, Rita, Andrew and Gustav – reversed the trend in recent years, pushing annual losses up to 16.57 square miles for the period 1985-2010, the equivalent of more than one football field per hour.

Couvillion nonetheless saw cause for hope. “I’m optimistic that it’s not a run for the hills type of situation,” he said.  “If we really dedicate [ourselves] to coastal protection and restoration, we may be able to have some measured success.”


Considering the future of Louisiana's levees

Louisiana's love-hate relationship with the oil industry

Oil-damaged wetlands may just have to wait it out


--Ashlie Rodriguez

PHOTO: An example of fragmented and disappearing marsh, which was formerly cypress forest, is seen from the air in St. Bernard Parish, just outside New Orleans. Despite a decline in the rate of coastal wetland loss in the past 25 years, Louisiana has experienced a net loss of 1,883 square miles since 1932, according to a U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center report. CREDIT: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert