Will oil deal final blow to besieged marshland

From Will oil deal final blow to besieged marshland? (Field Notes - msnbc.com)

"Every inch of this habitat has something living on it," says environmentalist John Lopez. This marsh not only supports dozens of endangered species, says Lopez, director of sustainability at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and preserving the water quality, coast, and habitats of the salt water estuary. It is a nursery for the Gulf.

"Sixty to 70 percent of the commercial (fish) species in the Gulf depend on the Louisiana wetlands," he says.

Even if this area dodges the immediate threat of an oil invasion, the marsh is in a precipitous decline, and the oil industry is one of the key reasons, according to Lopez. Oil companies have carved canals through the marsh over the decades to make way for drilling rigs and pipelines, splintering a cohesive ecosystem, he says. That has changed the flow of water, the types of plants that can survive and the ability of the area to protect the mainland from hurricanes.

From 1932 to the present, the Louisiana wetland has lost about half of its total area – a football field of area every 45 minutes on average. The oil industry is believed to have caused 30 to 40 percent of the total loss of marshland, according to Lopez. "It’s hard to quantify, but we know (the oil industry) had a big impact," he says.

Projects to control the Mississippi River and hurricanes have also contributed to the loss of wetlands, he says.


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