Coastal Wetlands are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are along the edges of coasts, this is where land connects to oceans. They hold fish nurseries, they are the feeding ground for migrating birds, the first line against flooding, and a natural filtration system. Coastal Wetlands store more than five times the amount of carbon compared to tropical forests, most of this carbon is stored in deeper wetlands. The soil of specific mangrove fields hold about the equivalent of more than two years of global carbon emissions, a main reason coastal wetland ecosystems need to be saved.
LOUISIANA’S COASTAL WETLANDS
Louisiana is the home of multiple wetlands, and three million acres of the wetlands are lost at the rate of about 75 square kilometers annually, but reducing these loses is becoming to be difficult and costly:
“The swamps and marshes of coastal Louisiana are among the Nation’s most fragile and valuable wetlands, vital not only to recreational and agricultural interests but also the State’s more than $1 billion per year seafood industry. The staggering annual losses of wetlands in Louisiana are caused by human activity as well as natural processes. U.S. Geological Survey scientists are conducting important studies that are helping planners to understand the life cycle of wetlands by detailing the geologic processes that shape them and the coast, and by providing geologic input to models for mitigation strategies.”– S. Jeffress Williams
The destruction of these wetlands are result of its natural evolution process but has the “helping hand” of human activities: dredging, grazing and development. Louisiana’s wetlands are about 40% of the United States wetlands and take about 80% of the losses.
Solutions put forward are as followed: soft engineering solutions such as coastal restoration, barrier island re-nourishment, new navigation channels, seawalls and breakwaters. Building seawalls and breakwaters are possible but expensive and always seem to have mixed results. There have been many studies overlooking sediment budget, storm events, wave action, and sea level fluctuations that are showing how the wetland barrier system could work. The most present data shows simulations of natural processes for future diversions of the Mississippi River, sea-level rise, subsidence of coastal areas, and beach nourishment. Other studies examine ways in which fine-grained sediments can be introduced into wetlands to replace sediments lost by diversion of the river; the aggravating effects of wave action as determined by moving offshore sands to onshore areas; sources of sand for nourishment activities such as sand from Ship Shoal, some 25 kilometers offshore; and whether sediment can best be removed from the ends, the top, or the sides of the shoal. In general, human attempts to engineer coastal areas have had limited success. Wetlands face a myriad of threats, but thanks to research and advocacy efforts, awareness is growing about the role they play in curbing climate change and coping with its impacts. It is vital to preserve healthy coastal wetlands while also rehabilitating and restoring those that already have been degraded.
Recognizing the loss of its wetlands as a threat to Louisiana’s communities and economy, the state developed a Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast – a 50-year and $50-billion plan to rebuild Louisiana’s coast and its ecosystems. This requires multiple solutions that work together. The plan includes 79 restoration projects, 13 structural protection projects, and 32 risk reduction projects that will be implemented throughout coastal Louisiana. The state of Louisiana estimates that the projects outlined in the master plan will reduce expected damage to coastal communities. Louisiana’s Master Plan aims to rebuild and sustain the coast through a series of restoration projects. One critical component of restoring Louisiana’s coast is creating diversions, which allow the Mississippi River to deposit its sediment in the delta and surrounding marshes. Louisiana’s Master Plan would fund 124 restoration projects, including sediment diversions, which over time would collectively build or maintain an estimated 800 square miles of land. Over the next 10 years, the plan prioritizes implementation of several large sediment diversion projects to help curb coastal erosion. Businesses, local government, environmental and community groups have all raised their voices to demand that the funding coming to Louisiana be used for restoration.
Restoration won’t just protect the coastal environment – it will reinvigorate the local economy. The projects that will rebuild oyster reefs, rebuild the coast and prevent future land loss will also create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in wages for the people of Louisiana. The state of Louisiana estimates that state coastal spending in future years could directly and indirectly create up to 10,300 jobs, $520 million in wages and $1.35 billion in sales each year.