Land Loss and Human Impacts

Louisiana’s shrinking coastal zone is due to both natural causes such as rising sea levels and wave erosion, but human activity intensifies these evolutionary processes. Some of the most impactful land loss processes further increased by human activity include salt water intrusion, proliferation of invasive species, and subsidence.

Hurricanes and other storm events push salt water inland, increasing the salinity of wetlands to levels that damage local flora adapted to lower salinities, causing those plants to die, which in turn decreases their potential to reduce storm surge around human settlements. Dredged canals for oil and gas exploration provide easy pathways for salt water to move inland since these canals are often straight. [1] Healthy marshes decrease the distance that storm surges can infiltrate, so any man-made development that diminishes intermediate or salt marshes indirectly affects freshwater wetlands as well.

Invasive species are plants, animals, or other biota that are from other regions of the world that cause harm to our local native environment. One such invasive species with extensive ramifications for our coastal wetlands is the Coypu, or “nutria rat.” This large rodent devastates stands of native graminoids such as cordgrasses (Spartina spp) and bulrushes (Schoenoplectus spp). Coypu specifically target the base of stems and roots, digging for them in soft sediment platforms. [2] Lower root concentration in soils and active disturbance make for weakened substrates that are more susceptible to being washed away. Other invasive species have similar outcomes, but not necessarily by the same method. We have several invasive animals and plants in Louisiana, each introduced by humans either on purpose or accidentally, and each one has a destructive presence along our coast. CWPPRA actively works to counter the destruction of invasive species through research, engineering and reward-based mitigation, such as the Coastwide Nutria Control Program. [3]

Louisiana was built by the Mississippi River over the past several thousand years, depositing layer after layer of soft, uncompacted sediment. Naturally, that sediment will compact, causing the surface to sink. Developing human settlements might speed up this process due to increased weight. Some cities are sinking as fast as 12 millimeters per year. Combined with rising sea levels, these areas are getting 15 millimeters (.6 inches) closer to sea level each year. [4] Combining the natural subsidence rates with unnatural marsh degradation, flooding will continue to worsen in our towns and cities. The Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) tracks subsidence as well as several other ecological conditions and CWPPRA project performance over 391 sites along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. [5] Human activity is an integral component of Louisiana’s coastal zone, and CWPPRA works with biologists, engineers, local governments, volunteers, and residents to study those adverse impacts and devise innovative methods to address and deter them.









Featured Image from JennyCuervo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

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