SPECIAL REPORT: Washing away - the impact of coastal erosion

Published: Nov. 10, 2016 at 1:14 AM CST|Updated: Oct. 2, 2017 at 10:18 AM CDT
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SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - The coast of Louisiana has proven it's resiliency over and over again, but in recent years, the state has been seeing the effects of a process called coastal erosion.

The delta is an incredibly dynamic system, constantly changing along with the course of the Mississippi. The river feeds sediment to wetlands, building them up and subsequently inundating other areas with water - creating the ever-changing wetland scape.

According to the United States Geographical Survey, Louisiana loses sixteen and a half square miles of coastal land every year.

According to the National Weather Service, Southern Louisiana, especially south of the Intercoastal Waterway, is where the land is disappearing the fastest.

From 1932 to 2010, about 1,900 square miles of coastal land has been lost - larger than the state of Rhode Island

Giovanna McClenachan, the science director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, or CRCL, said the sea level rise is one of the main factors.

"With accelerated sea level rise that has been rising faster than it has in the past and this is another thing that the marsh has to combat, along with the other changes to the system," McClenachan said.

Coastal erosion is a natural process in Louisiana but people and industry only seem to be accelerating it. Jonathan Brazzel, National Weather Service hydrologist, said the biggest reason is the loss of Mississippi River sediment.

"That was going to occur naturally over time anyway, but we as a society, have stopped that because we live in Mississippi," he said.

McClenachan said another factor is the dredging for gas - over 10,000 miles of canals. As we lose land on the coast, there's less protection for those who live inland

Now that the marshes are disappearing. And residents of Southwest Louisiana are no stranger to these effects.

Clair Marceaux is the port director of West Cameron Harbor's Internal District and a resident of Cameron Parish.

She sees the impacts of coastal erosion first-hand and stresses the importance of preserving the coast.

About 80 percent of the nation's offshore oil and gas has moved to the coast and Cameron Parish has one of the densest networks of natural gas pipelines in the world, according to Marceaux.

"If we begin to lose more and more of our coastline, it puts that network in jeopardy," she said.

Louisiana is also ranked first in the nation for shipping tonnage and we have over a quarter of the total fisheries catch in the lower 48 states.

Of course, the disappearing coastline affects industries like shrimping and fishing but what most people don't realize is that it affects various industries across the state as well.

So what can be done to stop the loss? CRCL is one of the leaders in this battle. It is partnering up with local businesses to start initiatives like planting beach grass to create dunes to restore the natural barrier between land and the ocean.

CRCL is also working on other planting projects on newly built land. According to Marceaux, there are land-building projects also happening along the coast - surprisingly they're being lead by the industries that have moved to Cameron Parish.

Marceaux and other Cameron parish residents are, of course, concerned - with their homes in jeopardy - but there is hope with organizations and companies working to restore what has been lost.

According to McClenachan, there will be new data and maps coming out later this month to show how much land we have lost in recent years.

Copyright 2016 KPLC. All rights reserved.