The 2020 hurricane season has been a record-setting year here in the state of Louisiana. Busy year as well, we have seen five tropical landfalls, two of those occurring in this very parish. I'm in Cameron Parish where hurricanes Laura and Delta made landfall within months of each other. Since then we've covered the stories of those that have been affected by these storms. The damage that they have dealt with and their story of rebuilding and recovery one thing we haven't covered though is what is right next to me It's the environment and what it has gone through during this hurricane season.
"We have lots of strain, we're already losing land in South Louisiana and in Cameron and Vermilion Parishes in particular"
Louisianans are well aware of the uphill battle that the coastal wetlands already face but when you throw in a record-breaking hurricane season conditions have changed at an alarming rate.
"Well, as you can see we have a beach. We're at Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and there might have been ponds and some wet fields. But, in terms of a big stand of open water, that's new. It becomes pretty obvious when you get down to pecan island where there is water there where you used to be able to walk." Naiomi Yoder a staff scientist with Healthy Gulf explains.
And it is these very communities that are more at risk than ever. Climate change is happening and these coastal towns are the first ones seeing large impacts whether that’s from rising sea levels or rapidly strengthening hurricanes.
Southwest Louisiana which was hit by Laura and Delta is one of the regions of the state going through the highest rates of wetland loss. A 2020 scientific study published by the National Academy of Sciences has quantified though just how important these vanishing wetlands are.
Each square Kilometer of wetlands across the region protects thousands of dollars worth of infrastructure and property. While these may just be numbers, its once we take a look at what has happened this hurricane season where you can fully grasp the sheer destruction of the wetlands and the new threat to coastal communities.
This November 2019 image of the region may look pretty normal to you but when we show the difference after multiple hurricanes moved through the difference is jarring. Huge swaths of coastal plains and wetlands are just missing, swallowed up by the Gulf of Mexico. While conventional thinking would be that time will return things back to normal Naomi says that it will take years for the land to heal but will never return to what it once was.
"The wetlands are not able to drain like they used to. And that is one of the reasons that we will have some wetland loss. We saw with hurricanes Rita and Katrina about 215 square miles of wetlands lost total. So, we can imagine that there were only be more of that this time around."
While another hurricane season impacting the state, in the same way, is rather unlikely 2020 has highlighted a growing threat to the wetlands, coastal communities, and to our very way of life.
For more information on the wetland loss study visit https://www.pnas.org/content/117/11/5719 as well as https://www.healthygulf.org/ for information on environmental efforts to protect Louisiana's wetlands and coast.