The Gulf Coast lost wetlands despite overall gains in wetland habitat across the nation. Losses along the Gulf Coast (about 62,000 acres per year) accounted for a majority of all coastal wetland loss from 1998 to 2004, the study says, bringing the area’s total loss during that period to more than 370,000 acres. The loss of wetlands in southern Louisiana, estimated at around 18,500 acres per year, accounted for about one-third of the wetland losses along the Gulf Coast.
“This report clearly demonstrates the need to focus wetland conservation efforts along the Gulf Coast,” said Bob Dew, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs for Louisiana. “DU has been conserving wetlands for over 70 years through on-the-ground conservation projects combined with sound policy decisions and productive partnerships to address these landscape-scale losses.”
One key emphasis of DU’s wetland conservation work in coastal Louisiana involves constructing marsh terraces that facilitate restoration of submerged and emergent vegetation in areas that had previously converted to open water. To date, DU has built over 400,000 linear feet of terraces to restore 6,000 acres of coastal wetlands. In fact, DU is currently working with NOAA to secure $150,000 to restore additional wetlands in Cameron Parish through marsh terrace construction.
DU also conducts an extensive public policy effort to secure appropriations to expedite planning and implementation of coastal wetland restoration work, especially large-scale work by partners like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. In order to affect large-scale change in coastal Louisiana, DU works closely with a host of conservation partners and government agencies.
“The problems we face on the coast of Louisiana are too large for any one agency or organization to solve,” said Jennifer Grand, DU public affairs representative for Louisiana. “DU advocates for state and federal policy that reestablishes the process that create and sustain coastal marsh habitats.”
Coastal wetlands are important havens for waterfowl, commercial and recreational fish and many threatened and endangered species. They also provide natural protection for coastal communities threatened by hurricanes and storm surges.
Population growth and development are key factors behind coastal wetland loss, the report notes. The study indicates that wetland protection and restoration require more attention in coastal watersheds. Otherwise, there is a risk of reducing or losing the substantial ecological, commercial, economic and recreational services they provide.
Weather issues and high land values also have made wetland restoration efforts along coastal areas more difficult. The report warns that problems could increase as climate change places additional stresses on coastlines.