Archive for Hurricane Isaac
By Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., National Wildlife Federation
While the Atlantic hurricane season started June 1, the time period between the end of August and October 1 is typically the most active part of the season. It was during this window that some of the biggest and most destructive hurricanes made landfall along the Gulf Coast, including Betsy (1965), Camille (1969), Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), Gustav (2008) and Ike (2008). As waters in the Gulf of Mexico warm – providing fuel for hurricanes – and sea levels continue to rise, the threat to coastal communities of more powerful and destructive storm increases.
The destruction in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, only nine years ago, serves as a tragic reminder of the danger of relying on levees alone for protection at the same time as the barrier islands, marshes and swamps that once provided a buffer against storm surge disappear.
The idea that coastal environments can provide protection against storm surge and sea level rise is not a new concept, but moving toward truly integrating coastal habitats and coastal restoration with more traditional engineering options, such as levees, has been slow.
A recent article in Ocean & Coastal Management, “The role of ecosystems in coastal protection: adapting to climate change and coastal hazards,” outlines steps that need to be taken to improve our understanding of the storm buffering benefits that different coastal habitat types have to offer and how this information can be integrated into planning and development processes and coastal management decisions to help reduce costs brought about by sea level rise and storms.
The authors of this paper suggest four critical steps that need to be taken to integrate the benefits of coastal habitats in light of sea level rise and storm event protection to coastal communities:
1) Building a case for considering the benefits of natural coastal protection. This includes having enough evidence and understanding to build computer models that can capture the various coastal habitats – barrier islands, oyster reef, marshes and swamps – and their shape, size and health in order to calculate the protection they offer to nearby communities and infrastructure. This also means calculating the economic value that these coastal environments provide as fishery habitat, timber production and recreational space to further justify their protection into the future.
2) Including ecosystems as a fundamental component to decision-making processes. This means including the future loss of the protection provided by nearby coastal habitat when assessing how vulnerable a particular community is and the predicted risk to a community from rising sea levels and future storms. It also means factoring in the social, economic and cultural changes to a community that happen in the future as coastal habitats change or are lost. To help planners, managers and community members visualize what the future environment may look like, decision support tools need to be developed to help people understand what the future may be and identify communities and infrastructure that may become more vulnerable.
3) Using tested management tools to justify and maintain coastal environment protection. This includes the establishment of marine protected areas, coastal restoration efforts to re-establish protective coastal habitat, planned retreat in situations where the fight against erosion and storms is being lost and the incorporation of coastal habitat with planning and design of engineering structures.
4) Implementation. This includes putting in place policy tools that encourage the integration of coastal habitat with engineered solutions and access to the relevant information needed by planners and managers at the local and national levels.
As land loss continues in coastal Louisiana, we become more and more vulnerable to storms. And we’ve seen firsthand that faith in hurricane protection levees is not enough. Why do we continue to live in such a vulnerable place? Because while it is vulnerable, it is also beautiful, rich with resources that benefit the entire nation and home to some of the largest ports in the U.S. It is also home to people, communities, culture and a way of life not found anywhere else.
Engineered structures are important and will continue to be important for the future of many communities in coastal Louisiana, but protection and restoration of coastal environments is also absolutely essential. Understanding the full range of benefits provided to people by coastal habitats is essential to integrating those benefits with engineered structures to help us visualize what our future will look like and plan accordingly.1 Comment
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
This week marks the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. As we take time to remember and commemorate, we must also look to the future and commit to preparing for the next storm and protecting our communities.
Even eight years after Katrina, it’s hard to forget the storms. Recovery and rebuilding remain an everyday reality in coastal Louisiana. Levees and home elevation are some of the more immediate ways to protect ourselves, but these measures work best when part of a multiple lines of defense strategy that includes restoration of our natural storm protection along the coast.
For example, wetlands serve as a buffer for levees, reducing wave energy and the chance of over-topping, thereby reducing the chance that levees will fail. But the marshes, ridges and barrier islands that reduce waves and storm surge are disappearing at an alarming rate – we lose one football field of wetlands every hour in Louisiana.
That statistic stings the most when storms are brewing in the Gulf. Our communities need the protection of a healthy and resilient coast, and getting there will take the support of all who care about the future of our region.
Yesterday, coincidentally on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoring the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The next crucial step will be for the Council to select and implement sustainable restoration projects that will protect our communities and restore our ecosystems. The Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
Find out how you can get involved and help restore our coast!No Comments
It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.
Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.
- Restorethegulf.org, "First oiled bird is recovered."
- Restorethegulf.org, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
- The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
- TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
- The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
- Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
- PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
- University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
- The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
- Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
- University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
- NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
- The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."
This story was originally published by the National Wildlife Federation.
By Craig Guillot, National Wildlife Federation
When Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, its winds and tidal surge caused four deaths and at least $1.5 billion in insured damages. For many residents around the Mississippi River Delta, Isaac brought back memories of two recent disasters to hit the coast — Katrina and the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Before the storm even hit land, residents in some coastal communities noticed a rise in the number of tar balls washing ashore. Officials later discovered moderate amounts of tar balls and weathered oil in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Experts say scenes like this could be normal for decades to come and that Louisiana’s coast will require constant monitoring and a long-term plan for restoration. Despite advertising campaigns to the contrary, the region is still reeling from the Gulf oil disaster more than two years after the blow out of BP’s Macondo well.
Tar balls and oil reappears in the Mississippi River Delta
Even before Hurricane Isaac hit the coast, residents in communities from Grand Isle, La., to as far east as Gulf Shores, Ala., started to report an increase in tar balls washing ashore as the Gulf began to churn. Tar balls, sheen and various remnants of weathered oil were found following the storm in many of those areas including the pristine shorelines of Ship Island in Mississippi.
A National Wildlife Federation (NWF) team surveyed the waters and beaches near Port Fourchon, Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle on September 6 to survey the waters and beaches. While they did not find any evidence of significant oiling, they did find moderate amounts of tar balls on the beaches in Grand Isle. Tar balls have been a reality on Louisiana's coast for decades but Grand Isle residents say what was left on the beaches after Isaac was "a lot more than normal."
NWF Staff Scientist Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., said a number of tropical storms and weather events have washed up tar balls since the start of the 2010 disaster.
“They continue to wash up because there’s a lot of weathered oil still out there, either just offshore or just beneath the surface of the sand,” Renfro said.
NWF also made a trip out to Myrtle Grove, La., on September 7 to survey the damage that Isaac inflicted on the marsh. The eye of the storm first made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and passed over some of the state's most fragile marshes before making a second landfall near Port Fourchon.
David Muth, Louisiana state director for NWF, said the team found evidence of localized marsh destruction. On his survey, Muth noticed hundreds of large chunks of marsh that had broken away and been deposited in open water.
“Marsh break-up occurred in areas that have a history of rapid marsh loss in Louisiana, near Myrtle Grove. Healthier marshes to the south showed no signs of break-up. The findings illustrate the importance of quickly building the authorized Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion, which will build new marsh in this vital area.”
The NWF team also found three oiled pelicans near Myrtle Grove. A number of media outlets reported oiled birds and wildlife following the storm. While there is no connection between these findings and the Macondo disaster, Muth said, “This is further evidence that we have not yet completely learned the lessons of the Gulf oil disaster.
"Oil could be here for decades."
Even 23 years after the Exxon-Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, oil can still be found beneath the surface. Biologists say that "sub-lethal" effects to fisheries could linger in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come.
"It will probably be an issue for a long time, especially as many people conjecture that there are still tar mats laying on the bottom that you can't easily clean up," Muth said.
In April 2012, two years after oil started pouring into the Gulf, an NWF team found heavy oil still sitting just beneath the surface on small islands in Barataria Bay and Bay Jimmy. On one island, the oil was so abundant that it oozed to the surface under each foot step. Renfro said while oil may remain below the surface during the winter, it can emerge in the spring and summer when the heat softens it up and liquefies it. Many biologists believe that reappearing oil could be an annual occurrence in the summer months.
If there’s any good news, it’s that when oil comes to the surface, sunlight and weathering can help further break it down.
“Photo-oxidation from the sunlight helps break down that material even more. It also helps reveal it so that cleanup crews can get it. Hopefully we’ll have less and less over time,” Renfro said.
Last week, Louisiana State University ran lab tests for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and determined that the oil found on Grand Isle and Elmer's Island matched the footprint for the oil spilled from BP's Macondo well. BP later confirmed that the oil was from the well and that they would dispatch workers to clean it up.
Ed Overton, Ph.D., professor emeritus with the Department of Environmental Sciences at Louisiana State University, said that while oil is still out there, it is hard to tell exactly how much. Overton did say that storms can serve as “Mother Nature’s hurricane” in helping break down the oil. He believes that oil will degrade faster on the Gulf Coast than it did in Prince William Sound because of the geography of the shore.
“Our shoreline erodes and moves around more quickly. The problem with sandy beaches is that once it gets buried, you just don’t know where it is. We’ll likely see it for years but not at the level we saw in 2010,” Overton said.
Mississippi River Delta wetlands remain in a precarious state
Biologists and coastal restoration advocates say while the oil is an issue, it is only one part of a number of problems eating away at Louisiana’s wetlands. Oil has attacked the roots of plants and contributed to the death of marsh grass and mangroves but the encasement of the Mississippi River and saltwater intrusion has had a destructive impact for decades. In some areas of the marsh, the oil appears to have been the final straw.
Renfro also surveyed the Mississippi River by air on September 7 and saw heavily damaged patches of marsh between Belle Chase and Point a la Hache. She and Muth said there were clear differences in how untouched marshes fared compared to those that were heavily oiled during the summer of 2010.
“Pelican Island doesn’t look good at all. The mangrove has just been all brown and dead. It saw heavy oiling in 2010,” Muth said.
While marshes have always endured the winds and surges of hurricanes, Muth said he’s seen clear differences in how a healthy marsh can recover quickly. Further south in “healthier” areas of marsh, Muth said some parts looked almost invigorated by the storm where natural processes can deposit new layers of clay and sediment.
Renfro said the Wax Lake Delta is a clear example of how a thriving marsh can recover from a storm. After Hurricane Rita struck the area in 2005, damage to these wetlands was observed in the aftermath of the storm, but there was not a significant lasting impact. The Wax Lake Delta has been a rare success story in coastal restoration because it is fed sediment by the Atchafalaya River.
“The steady supply of mineral-rich sediments from the river help make these wetlands more resilient and allow them to recover quickly when damaged,” Renfro said.
NWF’s Greater New Orleans Program Manager Amanda Moore said it all underlines why the Gulf Coast needs a long-term comprehensive strategy for coastal restoration. NWF was instrumental in helping create and push for the passage of the RESTORE Act, a bill that ensures 80 percent of the fines and penalties from the Gulf oil disaster will be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.
Moore said its passage has been a monumental victory for the coast and that funding in the near future should help move along big coastal restoration projects. Ongoing monitoring of the impacts of the Gulf oil disaster will be needed to ensure a sound recovery.
“We knew that when the disaster happened, we'd be dealing with this for years to come. We need to keep vigilant and watching it because we could be dealing with this for a long time,” Moore said.No Comments
By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, 12 miles of Louisiana coastline have been closed because of newly washed up tar balls. Though the oil still must be analyzed, many – including BP – say that these tar balls could be leftovers from the 2010 BP oil disaster. (Update: Tests taken today confirm that the oil is from the 2010 BP spill)
At the same time, the Department of Justice has filed a memo blasting BP and underscoring the federal case that BP may be held grossly negligent in its handling of the Macondo well — a designation that could have tremendous impact on the amount of RESTORE Act dollars that flow back to the gulf.
How many more stories do we need to read about oil washing ashore before BP steps up to the plate and makes things right? How many more beaches need to be closed before BP stops stalling and makes the gulf whole again?
BP must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law for their carelessness. The Gulf Coast’s ecosystems and economies depend on it. BP also needs to reach a settlement as soon as possible. The sooner a settlement happens, the sooner restoration can begin.
Despite what BP might want you to believe in its advertisements, the Gulf Coast is still hurting. The gulf environment and the people and businesses that depend on it are still reeling from the effects of the spill. And while it will take years to understand the full extent of the spill’s damage, we do know that the oil continues to show up on beaches in the form of tar balls and mats, has severely impacted bird nesting habitat, has negatively affected endangered sea turtles, is probably at least partly responsible for a spate of dolphin deaths, sped marsh erosion in heavily impacted areas and that dispersants used to break up the oil have harmed plankton – a key link in the ocean’s food web.
The communities, businesses and wildlife of the Gulf Coast depend on a healthy environment for survival. Environmental restoration also provides economic restoration. By creating jobs and adding value throughout coastal economies, the same wetlands that protect coastal communities can also sustain them. The sooner a settlement can be reached, the sooner restoration funds can be made available and the sooner businesses and communities can get back on their feet and start recovering.
BP’s job in the gulf is not finished. It is time for BP to stop stalling and make the gulf whole again. For a region that has suffered so much, it’s the right thing to do.