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Conference on Restoring Louisiana's Coastal Barrier-Island and Wetlands Ecosystems

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Over the past decade and more, field studies by the USGS, working in partnership with State universities, have documented rapid and regionally pervasive coastal erosion and wetland loss along the Mississippi River delta plain in south-central Louisiana. Land-loss rates vary widely both spatially and temporally, owing to a complex combination of natural geologic conditions and processes (for example, storms, subsidence, sea-level rise, sediment starvation) and increasingly important human alterations (for example, river channelization, flood control, canals, fluid withdrawal, navigation channels). Barrier-island-erosion rates are as great as 10 m/yr averaged over the past century, and wetland loss is about 70 km2/yr.

As high as these rates are, scientific consensus is that climate change over the next century could cause relative sea level to rise about 1.3 m (compared with approximately 1 m of rise over the past century) and large hurricanes could become more frequent. This increased risk has grave implications for New Orleans, as well as the rest of the delta plain. For various social, economic, and environmental reasons, a Federal-State task force is in the process of implementing a series of plans (Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), Coast-2050) intended to reduce land loss and to restore the degraded ecosystem. The current cost of restoration is $50 million/yr, but the estimated total cost could be $15 billion.

To get advice on plans and actions to date to restore the Louisiana coast and to learn how Louisiana's land-loss situation compares to that of other regions of the Nation, the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities sponsored a half-day conference on November 16, 2001, hosted by the University of New Orleans. The conference was titled "Getting the Louisiana Land Loss Message Out to the Nation."

Attended by about 250 people, the conference featured two panels: the first consisted of three local science journalists (Mike Dunne, Bob Thomas, Mark Schleifstein), and the second consisted of Jeff Williams (USGS, Woods Hole), Don Boesch (University of Maryland), and Chris Hallowell (author of "Holding Back the Sea: The Struggle for America's Natural Legacy on the Gulf Coast," HarperCollins; see related article in October 2001 Sound Waves).

Jeff's talk focused on Louisiana's erosion land loss in a national context, discussed large-scale restoration efforts in several other regions (South Florida/Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Cape Cod Military Base, Massachusetts Bay/Boston Harbor) and listed several things that these other restoration projects had in common:

  • The public and State and national officials recognize the long-term value of the threatened ecosystem and are willing to protect and restore it.

  • Degradation of ecosystems has been a long-term process; restoration will take time and sizable resources.

  • Restoration projects require cost-share partnerships between Federal, State, and local governments.

  • Credible science must guide and underlie restoration plans, and scientific monitoring during and following restoration is important.

The panel talks were followed by a discussion with the audience and a wrapup talk given by Len Bahr, Director of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Educating the Public About Coastal Hazards
October, 2001

Related Web Sites
Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA)

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in this issue: Fieldwork cover story:
Honduras Coral Reefs

Black Carbon

Miami Canal Surveys

Cape Cod Lakes

Outreach African Dust Lecture

Rock Stories

Falmouth, MA Public Schools

WHFC Web Site

Meetings Coral Reefs

Sea-Level Rise & Coastal Disasters

Chesapeake Bay

Water Quality

Restoring Louisiana's Coastal Ecosystems

ArcGIS 8.1

Marine Technology

Staff & Center News Two New Postdocs

Student & Visiting Scientist

Data Management

WHFC Visitors

Cape Cod Marathon

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