Land cover throughout coastal Louisiana consists of a fragile ecosystem dominated by water and wetland habitats. Open water constitutes approximately 5,000 of the 7,600 square miles which define the Greater New Orleans area (Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist parishes).* Approximately half of the non-water geographic area is marsh soil, leaving only 1,000 square miles of solid land. Of the readily developable land, the average population density is approximately 1,200 persons per square mile; however, more densely populated urban areas average nearly 3,900 persons per square mile.
Coastal Louisiana wetlands make up the seventh largest delta on Earth and support the largest commercial fishery in the lower forty-eight states (USGS). The bio-diversity of the wetlands and the people which it protects are threatened by a range of issues. Canal dredging, industrialization, urbanization and storm activity all contribute to coastal land loss. Between 1990 and 2001, wetland loss was approximately 13 square miles per year, approximately one football field of loss every hour.1 Comparisons of Landsat satellite image before and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita showed 217 square miles of new water area, with permanent losses of wetlands undetermined.2 Additional information about Louisiana coastal land loss can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wetlands Research Center.
The Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) serves as the entity responsible for integrating hurricane protection, storm damage reduction, flood control, coastal protection and restoration efforts, and associated infrastructure construction and maintenance for the state. The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources produced a comprehensive analysis of the inland boundary of the Louisiana coastal zone for OCPR: Defining Louisiana’s Coastal Zone: A Science Based Evaluation of the Louisiana Coastal Zone Inland Boundary. The study evaluated changes that have occurred to the original historic boundary established over 30 years ago.
1 Barras, J.A., J.C. Bernier, and R.A. Morton. 2008. Land Area Change in Coastal Louisiana: A Multidecadal Perspective (from 1956 to 2006). U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3019, scale 1:250,000, 14p. of pamphlet.
2 U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey. (2007). Science and Storms: the USGS Response to the Hurricanes of 2005. (USGS Circular 1306, Chapter 6). Reston, VA: Barras, John A.
*These figures are based upon RPC calculations utilizing United States Geological Survey (USGS) Gap Analysis Program data from 1992-1993.