Louisiana Coastal Land Loss: A Local Example, A Global Concern

Effects of global climate change, such as sea-level rise, continue to affect Louisiana’s coastal populations and economy. Some may not know that Louisiana’s coast is also known as “America’s Wetland”. It derives its name from the vast expanse of wetlands along the coast (Louisiana contains 40% of all tidal marshes in the continental United States [1]).

Benefits provided by the Louisiana Coastland:

  • Louisiana produces 30% of all coastal fisheries in the continental U.S. [1]
  • Louisiana serves 90% of the nation’s offshore energy, and 30% of the U.S. oil and gas supply [5]
  • Louisiana wetlands provides vital hurricane protection to the 2 million citizens living in the area [1]
  • Louisiana’s boating ports provide access for 31 states [5]
  • Louisiana is home to one of America’s most remarkable cultures [1]
  • Louisiana is an area of world ecological significance for wildlife [1]

Coastal land loss has affected the people and environment of Louisiana for more than a century now. According to the New York Times, Isle de Jean Charles climate refugees are an example of the new and massive problem the world may be facing in the coming decades [2]. The island has lost 98 percent of its land area since 1955 as sea levels rise and land is lost to the Gulf of Mexico. Most Isle de Jean Charles residents are Native American and tribal members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians as well as the United Houma Nation [3].

tribes_losing

In 2016, “the community of Isle de Jean Charles became the first U.S. group of “climate refugees” to receive federal assistance for a large-scale retreat from the effects of climate change” [3]. The terms “migration with dignity” or “planned relocation” are preferred over “climate refugees” [4]. Other American groups considered “climate refugees” are the Quinault Indian Nation of the Pacific Northwest and the Inupiat of Kivalina, Alaska [4].

Dr. Julia Meaton from the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Sustainable and Resilient Communities, mentioned, “Most people don’t engage with climate change because they perceive it as a distant phenomenon. They think there’s nothing they can do and technology or governments will solve the problem”; she also notes, “we worry about our children and our grandchildren but we don’t worry about the future for our children’s grandchildren” [7].

delta compare 2.png

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists  (NOAA) say that by the year 2100, the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across the Louisiana landscape [5]. Dr. Julia Meaton from the University of Huddersfield says, “an estimated 250 million people will be climate change refugees by the year 2050″ [7]. She also mentioned that to combat to global climate change “we need to completely change our business models, consume less, increase energy efficiency,  and make fewer demands on the world’s natural resources [7].

Economic losses that Louisiana experiences may expand across the nation. Louisiana coastal land loss is not just a state problem, but also a national concern and a global example of future issues resulting from climate change. A diverse group of partners, including the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, are working to slow land loss and rebuild wetlands across Louisiana’s coast through large-scale restoration projects and public outreach.

la basins 3

How YOU CAN Help:

  1. Participate in a wetland restoration plan. Contribute your professional expertise or elbow grease through wetland clean-ups, replanting, and other activities [1]. 
  2. Become involved in local government actions that affect wetlands. You can request to receive the agenda of project planning meetings and copies of documents covering any restoration issues [1].
  3. Speak out for protection for Louisiana’s coast and coastal wetlands, marshes, cheniers and barrier islands to your elected officials. Let them know the coast has a voting constituency [1].
  4. Observe development practices in Louisiana’s coastal zone to determine if erosion and pollution control is effective and report violations to city and county officials [1].
  5. Encourage neighbors, developers and state and local governments to protect wetlands in your watershed resolutions, ordinances, and laws [1].
  6. Learn more about wetland restoration activities in your area; seek and support opportunities to restore degraded wetlands. You can even obtain technical and financial assistance if you wish to restore wetlands on your property [1].

More ways to Help!

 

Click a Link Below for further reading!

Isle de Jean Charles Official Website

Reclaiming Native Ground

Loyola Center for Environmental Communication

LSU: Climate Change: What will it mean for Louisiana’s Coastal Fisheries?

PRI: Louisiana’s Coastline is disappearing at the rate of a football field an hour

Scientific American: Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana is Disappearing, Quickly

Climate Refugees Film

Louisiana Fights the Sea, and loses

 

Sources:

[1] America’s Wetland Foundation: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana. 14 May 2018. http://www.americaswetlandresources.com/index.html

[2] Davenport, Coral and Robertson, Campell. “Resettling the first American Climate Refugees”. 14 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/03/us/resettling-the-first-american-climate-refugees.html

[3] Johnson, Chevel. “As Louisiana Shrings State Paying to Move Residents”. 14 May 2018, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/03/21/as-louisiana-island-shrinks-state-paying-to-move-residents.html

[4] Lenferna, Alex. “Don’t Celebrate the U.S. for Protecting Climate “Refugees”. 14 May 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-lenferna-climate-refugees_us_5aa92f40e4b001c8bf15db8f

[5] Marshall, Bob. “Losing Ground:Southeast Lousiana Is Disapperaing Quickly”. 14 May 2018, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/losing-ground-southeast-louisiana-is-disappearing-quickly/#

[6] Reckdahl, Katy. “Losing Louisiana”. 14 May 2018, http://stories.weather.com/story/5931

[7] Stelfox, Hilary. “250 million people will be climate change refugees by 2050, predicts Huddersfield University academic”. https://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/250-million-people-climate-change-10664041

[8] Featured Image: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-releases-detailed-global-climate-change-projections

 

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The Mississippi River Deltaic Cycle

Water flows downhill naturally and, over time, will make a river change from one path to another. As sediment moved and elevations changed over the last 7 millennia, the Mississippi River has emptied into several historic delta complexes: Maringouin, Teche, St. Bernard, Lafourche, Plaquemines-Balize, and Atchafalaya. Each of the deltas built up part of Louisiana’s coast to what we see today, but now that natural process has been interrupted [1]. After the great Mississippi flood of 1927 that caused $1 billion worth of damages (almost $1 trillion in today’s dollars), the US Army Corps of Engineers built the world’s longest levee system under the Flood Control Act of 1928. The Levee system was constructed to reduce flood damages and allow for more control of the Mississippi [2].

Image 1: Historic Deltas of the Mississippi River

An unforeseen and unfavorable side effect to taming the river was that all the water is kept moving too quickly to deposit sediment, and now sediment is lost to the Gulf of Mexico rather than deposited into our coastal wetlands [3]. Our Louisiana coastline is dependent on new sediment to nourish wetland ecosystems. Without sediment delivery, there is no material for natural land gain or replenishment, which will continue to contribute to our retreating coastline. The solution is not as simple as removing the levee system, however, since so much of Louisiana is populated now, and removing the levees containing the Mississippi would displace millions of residents from their homes. Instead, CWPPRA and our partners in restoration use man-made systems to create marsh, nourish wetlands, and maintain hydrologic connectivity so that we can protect and restore Louisiana’s coast.

 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_River_Delta

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Mississippi_Flood_of_1927

[3] http://mississippiriverdelta.org/our-coastal-crisis/wasted-sediment/

Image 1 from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/photo/miss-delta-formation/

Featured image from https://phys.org/news/2015-04-future-mississippi-delta.html

Prothonotary Warblers

 

As April passes into May, many migratory birds leave the tropics of Central and South America in search of bountiful summer resources in the sub-tropical United States. Among them, the very charismatic Prothonotary Warbler flies from the northern tropics to the hospitable habitats of the United States. Prothonotary warblers live in forests near bodies of slow-moving water where they can hunt for insects and nest in cavities in trees. The cypress swamps of Louisiana are about as good as it gets for a prothonotary warbler, and they stay from April to August. [1] If you get out into the swamp during the summer, look for their bright yellow figures darting through low-lying foliage.

Prothonotary warblers have experienced a population decline in recent years that experts attributed to the destruction of their wintering habitat in the tropics.[2] To improve breeding success and survivorship, the Audubon Society and other ornithological enthusiasts have encouraged people to install nest boxes that help to protect warbler nests from failing. Many natural threats exist in swamps for warblers, including a variety of snakes, birds of prey, and mammals. Since brown-headed cowbirds will use prothonotary nests to lay their eggs in when given the chance, nest boxes are suggested to have a 1¼“ hole to prevent larger birds from entering the box but still allow the warblers to enter. Boxes are not left on the ground, and are often mounted on poles. Some predators can climb, so many boxes have a skirt/collar that prevents snakes, raccoons, and cats from climbing the poles into the nests. More guidelines for a good nest box can be found at https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/features-of-a-good-birdhouse/.

 

 

[1] Petit, L. J. (1999). Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.408

[2] Kaufman, Kenn. “Prothonotary Warbler.” Audubon, National Audubon Society, 10 Mar. 2016, http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/prothonotary-warbler.

Featured Image:

Brannon, Peter. “Adult Male.” All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Florida, 14 Sept. 2016, http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Prothonotary_Warbler/id.

Levee Systems in Louisiana

As flooding events continue to increase in frequency and intensity, it is essential for the State of Louisiana to continue moving forward in technology and ingenuity for the construction of levee systems.

Since 1718 natural and man-made levee systems in Louisiana have been crucial in attempt to control the “Mighty Mississippi”. The Mississippi River drains 41% of the continental U.S. and more than half of Louisiana’s land is in a flood plain [1]. Therefore, careful planning, construction and maintenance of levee systems in Louisiana must continue to improve.

What is a levee?

According to the Federal Emergency and Management Authority (FEMA) a levee is a “man-made design and construction in accordance with sound engineering practices to contain, control, or divert the flow of water to provide protection from temporary flooding [2].

Some History on levees:

Before European control, natural processes occurred along the Mississippi River in which sediment deposits created natural levees reaching up to a meter or two in height. [3]. Initially, state government required that farmers and land owners build their own levees with ~10-12 cubic yards per day and reaching 75 feet long in some areas [4].

Today, with multiple Acts by the United States Congress, levee systems are professionally implemented by multiple entities to promote control and prevent flooding.

Who is Involved:

There is no one entity solely responsible for levee construction and maintenance in Louisiana [2].  Some entities that share the responsibility include but are not limited to the following:

levee districts

Current Programs including Levee Development and Planning:

Necessary Plans for the Future:

The Louisiana Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast 2017 calls for project  “construction of a levee to an elevation of 15-35 feet around the Greater New Orleans area from Verret to the Bonnet Carre spillway” [5].

La_pic

Incremental Improvements recommended by David Muth (A Director of National Wildlife and Fisheries) include [5]:

  • Levee resilience
  • Increased water storage capacity inside levees
  • Public incentive to participate in building raising or relocation programs
  • Restoring the wetland buffers outside levee

A Plan in the year 2009 from Netherland Engineers to CPRA recommended the following [5]:

  • Raising levees to protect from a 500 year event or greater around central New Orleans
  • Raising levees to 1,000-year levels east of the Industrial Canal and on the West Bank.
  • Recommended a new levee and gates along the New Orleans land bridge, into St. Tammany Parish.

netherlands_rec

As flooding events continue to increase in frequency and intensity, it is essential for the State of Louisiana to continue moving forward in ingenuity for flood prevention, policy, planning, funding, and coastal restoration efforts.

Additional Links regarding Levees:

 

Work Cited:

[1] ALBL. “Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana”. 24 April 2018, http://albl.org/

[2] FEMA, “Levees – Frequently Asked Questions”.  24 April 2018, https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1803-25045-4819/st_broomelv.pdf

[3] Kemp, Katherine “The Louisiana Environment: The Mississippi Levee System and the Old River Control Structure”. 24 April 2018, http://www.tulane.edu/~bfleury/envirobio/enviroweb/FloodControl.htm

[4] Rogers, David. “Evolution of the Levee System Along the Lower Mississippi River”. 24 April 2018, http://web.mst.edu/~rogersda/levees/Evolution%20of%20the%20Levee%20System%20Along%20the%20Mississippi.pdf

[5] Schleifstein, Mark. “New Orleans area’s upgraded levees not enough for next “Katrina” engineers say”. 24 April 2018, http://www.nola.com/futureofneworleans/2015/08/new_levees_inadequate_for_next.html

The Future of Urban Deltas

An urban delta may be defined as a city home to as many as half a billion people living and working in a deltaic zone where rivers meet the ocean. These communities are coastal, riparian, & urban which are threatened by increasingly strong typhoons, hurricanes, uneven rainfall patterns with droughts [6].

According to New America, the 3 major global trends are climate change, rural to urban migration, and urban economic concentration. The Delta Coalition is the world’s first international coalition of governments joining forces to share knowledge, innovation and sustainability practices to create more resilient urban deltas [1].

Urban Delta_Image 2

Policy makers, politicians, NGOs, academics, engineers, designers and consultants worked and talked together about the challenges and opportunities of the world’s urban deltas at a Sustainable Urban Deltas conference in 2016 [4].

Deltaic countries who have joined The Delta Coalition  include: Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mozambique, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Vietnam [6]. Other organizations moving forward toward sustainable urban deltas are PRIVA, and Sustainable Urban Delta where waste water recycling, or creating bio-fuel from food waste are examples of sustainable innovations for urban deltas [5].

World City Populations 1950-2030

Urban Population Image 1

By one count, over 1/4 of the world’s 136 largest port cities occupy deltaic formations [2] and the percentage of people living in urban areas “has grown from 34% in 1960 to a projected 66% in 2050” [6].

Urbanization is directly related to economic growth, creating more jobs, and increasing population; though this steadfast increase is positive in some ways, it also increases the chance of poor governmental preparedness resulting in poor living conditions, quality of life, and slums [6].

“It is clear we can only solve the world’s environmental problems if we solve the problems of our cities first” [1]. — According to Chief Curator of IABR ( International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam), world leaders must  invest in learning the capacity of cities, experiment, and join networks while creating new and positive urban visualizations towards a productive, clean and socially inclusive city [3].

In regards to Louisiana’s urban delta, CPRA developed Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast to incorporate coastal wetland protection and restoration for coastal and deltaic communities, and CWPPRA projects are consistent with the Master Plan.

Urban Delta_Image 1

Continue reading “The Future of Urban Deltas”

Stress Part II: Flooding and Hypoxia

Wetland inhabitants must also deal with flooding stress. All parts of a plant must have oxygen, which causes problems when a plant is rooted in hypoxic soils and it is flooded. Gases diffuse about 10,000 times more slowly through water than through air, and wetland soils are often inundated and hypoxic. This poses an issue for supplying roots with enough oxygen since they don’t have any around them. Some root systems will have adventitious roots, which means they extend above the surface of the water or soil to allow gas exchange with the atmosphere.[1] Red mangroves have prop roots, black mangroves have pneumatophores, and both supply oxygen directly to the root system rather than relying on transport all the way from the leaves to the roots.[2]

Hypoxia can be caused by eutrophication and decomposition. Hypoxia and anoxia are dangerous to most plants and animals because most cannot live only with anaerobic (without oxygen) respiration. Bacteria can sometimes live in anoxic conditions by using different electron receptors that are more plentiful in wetland soils like sulfates. Plants can sometimes cope with hypoxia thanks to adaptations like aerenchyma development in their roots. Aerenchymous tissues are much more porous to allow gases to diffuse up to 30 times more easily through a plant! In animals, lungs can allow some fish, mammals, and aquatic gastropods (snails) to live in hypoxic waters, but many fish have gills that are not adapted to hypoxia. The Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana’s coast boasts one of the largest hypoxic zones in the world with a peak area of over 8,500 square miles in 2017, where many commercial fisheries have seen a large decline in fish catch. [3]

PHOTO- dead zone map-NOAA-700x345-Landscape
Photo from NOAA, Dead Zone 2017

Works Cited:

[1] Gilman, Sharon. “Plant Adaptations.” ci.coastal.edu/~sgilman/778Plants.htm.

[2] “Adaptations.” Adaptations :: Florida Museum of Natural History, http://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/southflorida/habitats/mangroves/adaptations/.

[3] “Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ Is the Largest Ever Measured.” Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ Is the Largest Ever Measured | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, web.archive.org/web/20170802173757/http:/www.noaa.gov/media-release/gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-is-largest-ever-measured.

Featured image is of Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove) from Flickr by barloventomagico

Salinity Stress and Tolerance

Living in any habitat comes with hurdles that make it harder for plants and animals to thrive. We call these hurdles “stress”. Coastal wetlands demonstrate several kinds of stresses to both plants and animals. Through many years of evolution, plants and animals have adapted to living with these stresses, also called being “stress tolerant”. Adaptations can be in physical structure changes or on the smaller scale (cellular). Some stresses that come with living in coastal wetlands include salinity (the amount of salt or ions in the water), inundation (flooding at least above the ground, sometimes even higher than the whole plant), and hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen in the water). [1]

Salt water intrusion has been increased by dredging navigation channels among other impacts. Saltwater intrusion makes fresh bodies of water more saline than they usually are. The problem with this is that the plants that live in such places are adapted to live in fresh water and generally cannot deal with increases in salinity more than 1 or 2 parts per thousand (ppt). For reference, the Gulf of Mexico’s average salinity is approximately 36ppt. Some plants, though, can live in full-strength sea water. For example, the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) has several adaptations that let it keep its cells safe from high salinity. Like smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), black mangroves excrete salt onto their leaves to get it out of their systems.[2] Some fish have similar adaptations in their gills that allow them to keep their internal salt concentrations at safe levels.

Avicennia_germinans-salt_excretion
Salt Crystals accumulate on A. germinans leaves (Photo by Ulf Mehlig, found on Wikimedia Commons)

 

Works Cited:

[1] Bradford, Nick. “Stressed Wetlands.” NEEF, 10 May 2016, http://www.neefusa.org/nature/land/stressed-wetlands.

[2] Gilman, Sharon. “Plant Adaptations.” ci.coastal.edu/~sgilman/778Plants.htm.

Featured image is of A. germinans from Wikimedia commons, courtesy of Judy Gallagher