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Hurricane Isaac Is a Wake-Up Call for Coastal Restoration

By Cindy Brown / The Nature Conservancy

Cindy Brown is the Gulf Coast Program Director for The Nature Conservancy and a New Orleans native.

Our conversation began with the simple message in her subject line: Y’all ok? Amy, officemate but mostly friend, wanted to know how my family fared Hurricane Isaac. Amy and I share that special bond so many New Orleanians share, since we were both wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. I was happy and eager to hear from Amy — we hadn’t spoken since the news of Isaac’s approach. I responded with a simple Yes, since at this point I had evacuated and was communicating only by smart phone, and asked about her family.

Amy responded:
Without power and water but we are prepared and even have a generator for periodic use for A/C unit and refrigerator. You have power? We are trying to make it an adventure for our boy and so far it is working. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. So fortunate considering what our friends who own the citrus farm in Braithwaite went through…

The citrus farms in Plaquemines Parish. I was aware of the tragedy that was unfolding in Braithwaite as the Gulf inundated parts of the parish up to rooftops, but hadn’t even thought about the potential damage to the parish’s citrus farms.

Each winter, farmers from Plaquemines Parish drive their produce north to New Orleans, supplying area restaurants, bars and the city’s farmers’ markets with an abundance of citrus of every sort. Satsumas are a perennial favorite in New Orleans, celebrated at our annual Satsuma Festival where we indulge in all sorts of yummy treats that contain satsumas as the featured ingredient.

I can’t help but selfishly wonder (folks lost so much in Plaquemines Parish and my concerns are miniscule in comparison) whether or not we’ll have satsumas at all this winter thanks to Isaac. Or into the future, for that matter, since Plaquemines Parish is losing square miles of coastal land every year to erosion.

  • According to the U.S. Geological Survey, an average of 34 square miles of land, mostly marsh, has disappeared each year from the south Louisiana landscape during the last 50 years.
  • Experts estimate that if nothing is done to reverse this trend, Louisiana could lose another 700 square miles of coastal wetland by 2050.

The loss of coastal lands is not unique to Louisiana. It’s happening throughout the Northern Gulf of Mexico, weakening the natural coastal infrastructure of all five Gulf states. Without barrier islands and marshes to help buffer our communities from large storms, we can expect to see the devastating effects of hurricane surges worsen over time.

The key is to repair the coastal region’s damaged ecological foundation through scientifically-proven projects, like living shorelines and the restoration of coral and oyster reefs and seagrass beds. Remarkably, right now, we — the Gulf Coast community — have a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to do just that.

By allocating funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response to coastal restoration projects, Gulf states can reduce their vulnerability to storm damage, sustain tourism and other coastal businesses, and promote critical nursery areas for the region’s multi-million dollar commercial and recreational fisheries.

Hurricane Isaac is a cruel reminder of our vulnerability and a wake-up call that we need to use this amazing opportunity to reverse the fate of the Gulf Coast by investing in coastal restoration.

As life returns to normal in the aftermath of Isaac, and I boil in the mosquito-filled stew left behind by its relentless downpour, I fantasize about cooler weather. Fall and, subtly, winter, will soon arrive in South Louisiana and with it, satsumas—if we’re lucky.

That marvelous, sweet Plaquemines Parish citrus that so few outside of south Louisiana have ever tasted. The citrus that throughout childhood filled the toe of my Christmas stocking. That we now make candied rinds from. And that Maxwell, my young son, finally learned to make juice out of on weekend mornings with our old juicer. Such a wonderful winter delight for me and my family.

Satsumas. Just one of life’s small pleasures that stands on the brink of disappearing forever from Louisiana’s coastal landscape — and from our generations-old traditions — unless society resolves to keep it from happening.

Visit The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico page on Facebook to learn more about our work in the Gulf.



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