Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How gulf coast's wetlands mitigate the force of a hurricane

Craig Pittman in the St. Petersburg Times: Seven years ago, a coalition of Louisiana groups launched a save-our-coast campaign called "America's Wetland" with sponsors that ranged from the NFL's New Orleans Saints to the company that makes Tabasco sauce.

The campaign began because they wanted to alert the public that Louisiana's coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 25 square miles per year. The campaign picked up steam after Hurricane Katrina showed the vital role that those coastal wetlands play in blunting the force of such storms.

Earlier this month, the latest iteration of the campaign sailed into St. Petersburg's Bayboro Harbor in a gorgeously restored 1984 Grand Banks yacht. At the helm of the 50-foot trawler was Val Marmillion, a Fort Lauderdale resident who grew up in Houma, La. He has been the managing director of the America's Wetland Foundation since its inception. Now he's taking his boat around the Gulf Coast in the weeks preceding the start of hurricane season, warning boaters and anyone else he encounters about the need to restore wetlands.

…Marmillion wants the tour to spread awareness of the impact wetlands losses are having on the environment and also the economy, since it affects the seafood and tourism industries. And it's happening not just in Louisiana but throughout the country. He named the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the California delta near San Francisco as places in jeopardy.

"We're losing it right around the perimeter of the country — our nation is shrinking," he said. "The whole country around its rim is in danger."

Satellite imagery showing the loss of wetlands in Louisiana over the course of 23 years. Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, NASA

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