Ecosystem should rebound after hurricanes

By: by Cain Burdeau Email
By: by Cain Burdeau Email
This year

Waves caused by the approaching Hurricane Gustav hit the sea front of Havana's 'Malecon' , Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008. Gustav swelled to a fearsome Category 3 hurricane with winds of 120 mph (195 kph) as it shrieked toward the heartland of Cuba's cigar industry Saturday on a track to hit the U.S. Gulf Coast, three years after Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco/Prensa Latina)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — This year's devastating hurricane season killed millions of fish and turned many of Louisiana's green marshlands into brown and dead expanses, but overall the state's abundant ecosystem should manage to rebound, according to new reports by state biologists.

Hurricanes Ike and Gustav washed over all of Louisiana's coast, pushing salt water far inland and disturbing water quality across the coast, according to reports released Tuesday by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Fish died in large numbers — the heaviest toll was in the Atchafalaya Basin — and many waters may take up to three years to recover, the report said. The heaviest-hit areas may take up to five years, it said.

But that is not cause for panic, the report said.

"Catastrophic events are not new to Louisiana," it said. "Restoration of our viable freshwater fisheries will take some time (2-3 years), but is assured. The excellent fishing our anglers have come to expect will come back as good as ever."

More troubling was the loss of beaches, dunes and barrier island habitats, which, coming on top of what the 2005 hurricane season did, is cause for concern, the report said.

"Significant differences are seen in these critical habitats over the last three years," it said.

The ecosystems behind the state's barrier islands may turn more salty and that could affect species that like freshwater environments, the report said.

In the storms' wake, flights over Louisiana's vast marsh also revealed a landscape burned by the invasion of salt water. Where green expanses met the eye before the storms, those areas were turned into wilted brown expanses, the report said.

Marsh in central Louisiana was "scoured and broken up" and the storms' waves eroded the coastline, the report said.

As for forests, maples and willows were broken and bent and cypress and oaks were burned by wind and salt spray, the report said. But the storms' toll on forests was mostly minimal, the report said.

As for wildlife, the biologists did not see any terrestrial wildlife during their flights over the coast but alligators and water birds were present.

Finally, the report said Ike and Gustav hit the state's fishermen hard. In Cameron Parish in southwest Louisiana, where the storm surge reached 15 feet, the report said "Nearly all infrastructure took some damage from one or both hurricanes ... Many facilities have major work to do in order to return to business, and it may be many months for this to occur."

State biologists also said silt and debris was washed over oyster bottoms and shrimp grounds, which will hurt the state's fishermen.


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