Growing Returns

In Louisiana, brown pelicans emerge as a sign of hope, recovery and resilience

With spring underway, thousands of brown pelicans are returning to nest on Queen Bess Island — a bird rookery island south of New Orleans in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay. What may seem like an ordinary annual event is actually quite remarkable, and a promising sign of recovery and resilience for Louisiana’s state bird.

Brown pelicans have returned to nest on Queen Bess Island following a massive restoration project. Photo credit: Halle Parker, National Audubon Society.

Until recently, Queen Bess Island was at risk of disappearing entirely from the forces of subsidence and erosion. Even worse, nearly ten years ago, the island was ground zero during the Gulf oil disaster, which occurred at the height of nesting season, killing or oiling thousands of pelicans on or near Queen Bess Island.

The oil spill took place only one year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the brown pelican from the federal endangered species list. Having recovered from previous threats, the population faced another major setback from the oil spill.

Today, brown pelicans are again nesting on Queen Bess Island and soaring across coastal Louisiana. Their return underscores the impact we can have by advancing meaningful conservation policies and working to restore and protect our coastal ecosystems.

As more areas are threatened by land loss and sea level rise, there is increasing urgency to learn from past success.

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The Mississippi River is America’s trade artery. It’s time to make it more resilient to climate change.

After 2019’s unprecedented flood, the Mississippi River is rising again, causing anxiety for those living and working in its path. While impacted communities and fisheries received much attention, people have been less aware of the impacts to another critical industry: navigation.

Last year, in a first, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway, a flood protection structure north of New Orleans that helps protect downriver communities, twice in the same year. It was also the first time the Corps opened the spillway in back-to-back years, providing a much-needed safety valve during one of the wettest periods in more than a century.  

These extreme conditions are occurring more frequently and greatly impacting the navigation industry and the economy. Decision-makers at the state and federal level must prioritize solutions that can help the navigation industry become more resilient on the Mississippi River. Read More »

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New Jersey prepares for future with seas rising faster than anticipated

Coastal states are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and that is especially true in New Jersey. To better understand and plan for this risk, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) released a new report by Rutgers University that examines the state’s historical rates of sea level rise and updates future projections.

The report finds that sea level has increased at a higher-than-average rate for the Garden State, and seas could rise by an additional six feet by 2100.

Nearly eight years after Superstorm Sandy devastated the state, this and other report findings can help state planners and policymakers take proactive measures to help build resilience and mitigate impacts from rising seas and future storms. Read More »

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Coastal states need resilience plans. Here are six essential elements.

Coastal states are turning to resilience planning to confront extreme weather and climate change. New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida have all hired chief resilience officers to oversee their states’ resilience strategies. Louisiana has been a leader in coastal resilience for more than a decade.

In 2007, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana embarked on its first of three Coastal Master Plans – science-based and publicly-informed coastal resilience plans. With each iteration, Louisiana improved the science, enriched public engagement and increased transparency in decision-making to build plans that were unanimously approved by the state legislature three times.

Based on this experience, here are six essential elements that states should include in their coastal resilience plans: Read More »

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Four ways North Carolina can build resilience year round

Earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a proclamation recognizing the imperative to think anew about how the state lives with climate change. The governor emphasized the importance of building resilience as North Carolina communities continue to recover from an onslaught of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

Flooding has been the biggest problem this year, from headline-grabbing events like Hurricane Dorian, to intense, fast-forming thunderstorms like those we experienced in June, when 3 inches of rain fell per hour. In fact, June was the eighth wettest month on record since 1895.

September, however, was among the driest months in a decade, contributing to what experts call a “flash drought.” For farmers, flash droughts are problematic because they can cause crop loss, especially when crops have shallow roots after being planted during a wet month. While farmers were able to harvest some crops this fall, other harvests are at risk from the dry weather.

This pattern of extreme rain combined with flash drought is straining already beleaguered farmers and residents. Read More »

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North Carolina must prepare for sea level rise now

North Carolina’s barrier islands (aka the Outer Banks) received the brunt of Hurricane Dorian’s impact to the U.S. mainland, but the damage could have been a lot worse had the storm not been weakened after ravaging the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane.

With the devastation of Hurricanes Florence, Michael and Matthew still in recent memory, North Carolinians did not need another reminder of the destructive power of hurricanes. However, Dorian highlighted the particular vulnerability of North Carolina’s barrier islands, and the need for us to develop solutions now for how this region confronts sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms. Read More »

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A good business leader will be prepared for the next disaster. Here’s how.

From widespread flooding to raging wildfires, communities across the country are feeling the effects of a changing climate and more extreme weather. These natural disasters are also impacting businesses with the potential to affect bottom lines and even survival.

40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and 90% of small companies that do not resume operations within 5 days of a natural disaster fail within the year.

Flooding can damage everything from a business’s hard assets, such as buildings, equipment and inventory, to soft assets, such as records and data. Even if a business isn’t directly flooded, disruptions to transportation, energy and communications grids can cause trouble, for example, if suppliers are unable to fulfill businesses’ needs.

The bottom line: interrupted business means lost profits and can result in lost clients.

Is your business prepared for a natural disaster? Here are five key strategies you could consider for your business, if you haven’t already. Read More »

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North Carolina keeps getting clobbered. Here are four strategies for weathering the next storm.

As my fellow North Carolinians prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Dorian last week, many were still reeling from the devastation that Hurricane Florence inflicted upon communities and businesses last year. And that’s to say nothing of the misery that Hurricane Matthew wrought upon residents two years before that – or the smaller flooding events that are now challenging folks with more regularity.

As we work toward recovery, we need to think about how we adjust to this new normal and build resilience in the face of increasingly intense storms and sea level rise.

As Gov. Roy Cooper said when testifying before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in February, “When storms are becoming more destructive, it’s not enough to pick up the pieces. We must take action to prevent this kind of devastation in the future.” Read More »

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Natural infrastructure is gaining momentum when our country needs it most

(This post was co-authored by Shannon Cunniff and Grace Tucker

2019 has been an unprecedented year for extreme weather, and we’re still in the thick of hurricane season. As disasters have increased, so has the popularity of using nature-based solutions to reduce flood hazard and exposure while also benefiting ecosystems and wildlife.

Along our coasts, healthy natural features – such as mangrove forests, wetlands, reefs and barrier islands – can be used to absorb the shock of storm surge, waves and rising sea levels. Further inland, nature-based features along rivers and in their floodplains can slow and retain water to help protect nearby communities.

In terms of public awareness, funding and policy, natural infrastructure is gaining steam as a critical strategy to help people and property become more resilient in the face of extreme weather. Read More »

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Looking to history to fix Louisiana’s land loss crisis

Tyler Ortego reaches over the side of his boat and grabs the top of a wooden stake that protrudes just above the waterline. Lifting it high, he reveals a dark cluster of what looks like small rocks, attached to the stake’s muddy end.

“Oysters,” he says and smiles. Read More »

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