WSJ on the environmental damage wrought by Katrina

Categories: Science

There's a superb story by Ken Wells in last Friday's Wall Street Journal titled "Oil, Saltwater Mar Louisiana Coast, Threaten Future." Here are some salient excerpts:

[A]t least 193,000 barrels of oil and other petrochemicals were blown or driven by tides across the fragile marshy ecosystems and dense urban areas of the Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, southeast of New Orleans.... The spills... approach the scale of the famous 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill, which dumped 240,000 barrels of crude oil....


Coastal Louisiana's wetland produces a third of the nation's commercial seafood--about a billion pounds of fish, crab and oysters annually--the most in the lower 48 states.... The mixture of sewage, rotting vegetation and oil... has been devastating to aquatic birds. More than 5 million migratory birds, including a number of rare and endangered species, make use each year of the Louisiana estuary's marshes, swamps, bays and bayous. Coastal Louisiana also harbors the largest nesting population of bald eagles in the lower 48....

Coastal Louisiana holds the earth's seventh largest wetland and is America's largest estuary, containing 30 percent of all U.S. coastal marshes... Yet the state's coastal ecosystem is less well known than places such as Chesapeake Bay, whose fishery production it dwarfs. It receives far less adulation than the Florida Everglades, though it shelters far more species of wildlife, fish, and birds.

Some scientists... are convinced that the conditions of the wetlands of the St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes contributed to the number of oil spills [at least 40, ten of which are major] during Katrina. One example: Pipelines originally buried under the marsh 20 years ago had become more vulnerable to Katrina's surges as the landscape changed... [T]he Plaquemines Parish president says he heard of cases where "the force of the storm surges forced a lot of pipelines to the surface, snapping them like sticks of dried spaghetti."


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