Sunday, September 21, 2008

Hurricanes and damaged wetlands

From (lord help me) aol news

Coastal Build-Up
In 2003, more than half the U.S. population (or about 153 million people) lived along the Gulf and Southeastern U.S. coastline — an increase of 33 million people from 1980 — and that number is just expected to keep rising.
The buildup of these communities in recent decades and the environmental damage that development has caused exacerbate the impact of hurricanes.
"There's been an explosion of population along our coast," said Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). "That's just putting a lot more people in harm's way."
This is particularly true in Florida, Texas and North Carolina, where populations are increasing the fastest. Hurricanes are especially a threat for homes right on the beach or on barrier islands, such as Galveston, because they receive the full brunt of a hurricane's storm surge.
Coastal features such as barrier islands and wetlands act as natural protection against a hurricane's storm surge, slowing it down and absorbing some of the impact. Studies have shown that every mile of wetlands reduces storm surge by about 3 to 9 inches and every acre reduces the cost of damages from a storm by $3,300, Staudt said.

May I just take a moment to say 'duh'.

"Our wetlands and barrier islands ... are our first line of defense," she said.
But the development boom in coastal areas has damaged these natural defenses, putting coastal residents even more at risk.
"The more we develop, the more we lose," Staudt told LiveScience.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that since the 1700s, the lower 48 states have lost more than half of their wetlands. While not all of that acreage loss is right along the coast, and some is likely a result of natural changes along the shoreline, a good chunk is due to development.
For instance, some of the Katrina damage to New Orleans was partly a result of the damage to the protective wetlands along Louisiana's coast. Development and subsidence, or outright sinking, of the state's coastline today mean that Louisiana loses an area of wetlands equivalent to the size of 32 football fields every day, according to the NWF.
Many hurricane experts have warned for years against destructive coastal development and imprudent policies that encourage people to build in coastal areas, but that often doesn't stop the building.

After looking at the pictures that accompanied this article, I just have to wonder what makes people think that it is wise to build a house that close to the gulf coast shoreline. Not only are they devastating important ecosystems, but they really aren't doing themselves any favors either, to look at the pictures. Why is it even allowed to go on? Why aren't these areas more protected, or why at least are there not zoning restrictions to prevent people from building in such flood-prone places?

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