Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): Louisiana

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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To preserve its coast, Louisiana must plan for the future

By Dr. Denise Reed, Professor Gratis, University of New Orleans

Coastal Louisiana has changed a lot in the last century. By comparing aerial photographs from the 1930s to today, we can see that change across the coast from an ecosystem once dominated by extensive marshes and lush swamps to one increasingly covered with open water and “ghost forests.”

Each year, our coast creeps farther inland as marshy shorelines erode due to boat wakes, wind and waves. This is called marsh edge erosion, and it’s one of the primary causes of Louisiana’s current land loss crisis.

Future land loss, however, will be driven by different causes. To better understand and prepare for future scenarios, EDF convened a team of scientists from its own organization, the University of New Orleans, Tulane University, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the National Wildlife Federation. Together, we used computer models and data from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to look ahead 50 years and explore the effects of varying sea-level rise and subsidence rates, known as relative sea-level rise.

The recently published results were illuminating and sobering. Here is the main takeaway for Louisiana:

Climate change accelerates land loss.
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2019 made climate impacts visible. Here are 4 stories of resilience that give me hope for 2020.

This year has been one of the toughest yet for communities across the country feeling the impacts of climate change.

Farmers took big hits from unprecedented flooding in the Midwest, coastal communities were pummeled with record-breaking rainfall and storms, and more than 250,000 acres in my home state of California burned from wildfires that took precious lives and left millions of people without power for days on end. As we enter a new decade, these four stories of resilience provide hope that we will take bold climate action in 2020. Click To Tweet

It’s easy to feel hopeless hearing one climate disaster story after another. But if you look around, there are also stories of resilience that can provide hope for the future. Here are four that inspire me. 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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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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Repeat opening of Bonnet Carré Spillway is a sign we need to manage rivers differently

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway north of New Orleans for the second time this year to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River levees and protect communities in south Louisiana from catastrophic flooding.

It was the first time in the structure’s nearly century-old existence that it had been opened twice in the same year. When the Corps opened the spillway in February, it was the first opening in back-to-back years.

Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser recognized this unprecedented occurrence in response to the wettest period in 124 years, saying, “This is not business as usual.” What was designed as an emergency flood control system has increasingly become a default safety valve, as climate change and increased precipitation throughout the Mississippi River Valley only further stress the system.

This is a sign that we need to re-think how we manage our rivers and revisit operations of a system designed nearly a century ago. Read More »

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States are turning to data and interactive maps to help residents confront and manage flood risks

2019 has been an unprecedented year for flooding, even before the start of hurricane season. Despite the number of devastating hurricanes in recent years, a new University of Notre Dame study published in Climatic Change found that most coastal residents do not plan to take preventative action to reduce damages.

In addition to speeding up the recovery process, taking action before disaster strikes can help homeowners reduce damages, save money and even lives. For riverine floods, every dollar spent before a disaster saves $7 in property loss, business interruption and death.

So how can individuals, businesses and the public sector be incentivized to make proactive investments to reduce vulnerability before a disaster strikes? The first step is clearly understanding risks—now and in the future—and having concrete recommendations for how to mitigate them.

In the past, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Rate Maps have been the source for this information; however, these probability-based maps have not resonated with most people as they rely on the obscure “100-year floodplain” concept. Being told you live in an area that has a 1 percent chance of flooding any given year does not inspire action, nor does it reflect the reality of a changing climate.

In recent years, states have stepped up with more robust tools that give residents a clearer depiction of risks and resources for how to reduce them. Three states stand out. Read More »

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Extreme wet weather in Louisiana and California highlights urgent need for newer, smarter strategies

Coauthored by Ann Hayden and Steve Cochran

It’s not often that communities in California and Louisiana face similar water challenges. California is better known for having too little water and Louisiana too much – both challenges exacerbated by climate change.

But record-setting wet winter weather led both states last week to release significant amounts of water from reservoirs and rivers to prevent flooding, underscoring the need for new approaches to build climate-resilient communities across the country. Read More »

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Louisiana kids make a play for coastal comeback in Super Bowl ad

As millions of Americans prepare to watch the NFL’s season finale this weekend (despite most Saints fans boycotting it after an egregious “no call” in the Rams playoff game), a group of Louisiana children have been preparing an important message for state policymakers and election candidates – one that will air on local TV stations during Sunday’s big game.

The kids are using the ad to draw attention to a land loss crisis. Coastal Louisiana loses a football field of land to the Gulf of Mexico every 100 minutes because of the way the land and the Mississippi River have been managed, and now because of sea level rise.

Watch now, share with friends, and if you are from Louisiana, pledge your support for restoring the Louisiana coast at
RestoreTheCoast.org.
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Virginia is creating a coastal resilience plan. Here are 5 ways it can succeed.

Virginia is experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the nation and has suffered a 250 percent increase in federally declared disasters over the last 20 years. The commonwealth’s coastal and riparian communities are becoming more and more vulnerable to flooding and storm damage exacerbated by climate change.

The good news is that Virginia is taking proactive steps to make its people and communities more resilient.

Last month, Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order designating an official chief resilience officer and directing the creation and implementation of Virginia’s first Coastal Resilience Master Plan to reduce the impacts of coastal flooding.

Here are five important points for Virginia policymakers to consider as they move forward with a coastal resilience plan. Read More »

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