Hurricanes and Wetlands

At one time, there were extensive wetlands around New Orleans which provided a natural resilience to storms. In total, about 50 miles of marshland once protected New Orleans from the Gulf. All along the coastline, millions of bowing trees and billions of bending marsh-grass stems once absorbed wind energy and blunted storm surges.

In recent years, half of those acres have been lost. Because scientists have estimated that every three miles of healthy wetlands could trim about one foot off a storm surge, we must restore these wetlands.

Causes and Consequences of Wetland Destruction:
The construction of levees along the Mississippi River causing a decade's worth of sediment and nutrients to go straight down the channel and out to the Gulf. If not for these levees, the river would have spread its life-giving load to nourish the marshes and replenish the barriers islands between New Orleans and the Gulf.

Coastal Louisiana - the delta - has been eroding at the rate of 25 square miles per year as a result of wetland destruction. A more healthy system of wetlands, marshes and islands between New Orleans and the Gulf almost certainly would have slowed down the storm and dampened the surge. Much of nature's shock absorber has been lost in Coastal Louisiana and must be restored.

Every coastal community in America may face more intense storms as the oceans continue to warm and to rise in the decades ahead.

What We Can Do:
We need to help people in every coastal community develop plans to protect against these storms. We also need to better understand how natural storm patterns are amplified by global warming and exacerbated by human coastal activities.

NWF's work to protect wetlands and clean water

  • Swamping Louisiana - As the state's coastal wetlands disappear, at the rate of a football field every half hour, both wildlife and human lives are threatened.
  • Cypress Distress - The Gulf Coast's ancient cypress swamps have suffered through development, water diversion projects and Hurricane Katrina; now, there's another threat: the wood chipper.
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