A Bird’s Eye View of the Louisiana Coast

In November, Outreach Coordinator Ashford Rosenberg, took to the sky to take a look at the Louisiana coastline. The opportunity is part of a grant that gives people the opportunity to see how the coast has changed over the last few hundred years. Land loss is a major concern in Louisiana, especially in the wake of several strong hurricanes that have hit the Gulf Coast in recent years. Land built by sediment deposited from the Mississippi River can act as a barrier and help protect against storm surge. However, anthropogenic processes over the last century have altered the flow of the Mississippi River and affected the structural integrity of Louisiana’s wetlands. Many projects have been proposed to address the issue in the hopes of preventing more wetland loss.

delta

Less than 100 years ago, this area used to be farmland. Deltas are notoriously rich in nutrients that facilitate plant growth. However, with alterations to the Mississippi River channel, this area is no longer getting the sediment it needs, and building canals has facilitated the weakening of soil structure and the land washing away.

oil canal

Canals such as these were dug as part of oil operations, and they can be seen in large numbers across the Louisiana coast.

delta community

Communities dot the landscape. People here live largely in isolation, relying on boat transport to get from place to place. In some instances, these areas are fishing camps with temporary residents, but some are towns with permanent residents. The delta provides habitat for many commercially and recreationally important marine species, and the people in these areas rely on that resource for food and income.

IMG_0413

Barrier islands play a large role in coastal ecosystems. They can act as a barrier to wave energy, decreasing the force of waves that reach the mainland. However, they are highly unstable, and move regularly as sediment builds them up and storms wash them away. Plant life plays a role in stabilizing these islands. A variety of planting projects exist, but have varying degrees of success. Other projects have been proposed to help build barrier islands back up again to provide continued coastal protection from wave energy.

It was an amazing opportunity to see coastal processes from a different point of view, and was also quite humbling to see how much a landscape can change in such a short amount of time. Protection of the delta and wetlands is essential to ensure that people in coastal Louisiana can continue to survive and thrive, and with innovation and collaboration, projects that aim to do so can be successful.


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