Hurricane Katrina made landfall August 29, 2005 becoming the costliest ($75 billion) and one of the deadliest (nearly 2,000 human lives lost) hurricanes in U.S. history. With the nation still reeling from Katrina, Hurricane Rita hit on September 24, 2005, causing $10 billion in damage but taking a far less direct toll on human lives. The duo's ecological consequences were also considerable: storm surges flooded coastal areas. Powerful winds felled forests in south Louisiana and Mississippi, havens for wildlife and migratory birds. Saltwater and polluted floodwaters from New Orleans surged into Lake Pontchartrain. Taking stock nearly a year later, experts from the Gulf Coast region will address the storms' ecological consequences and will offer insights on how ecological knowledge can help mitigate damage from future hurricanes.
"Not only is the City of New Orleans built on reclaimed wetlands that have subsided by up to 5 meters, over 25 percent of coastal wetlands disappeared in the 20th century," says John Day (Louisiana State University). Day, one of the symposia's presenters, argues that serious wetland restoration plans must close or restrict the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that contributed to the flooding of New Orleans and that disconnects the river from its delta plain. Wetlands help stem storm surges and diffuse powerful winds.
Complementing Day's argument, Paul Keddy (Southeastern Louisiana University) believes residents in the Gulf Coast states will have to decide if they want "business as usual" or a dramatic change in the way people accept the limitations and realities of dynamic coastal areas. During his presentation, Keddy will lay out what he sees as the connections between hurricanes, human irrationality, and Gulf Coast ecosystems. "From the American dust bowl to the collapse of the Canadian cod fishery, people have chosen development trajectories that are catastrophic in the longer term," he says.