Want to See How Fast Coastal Wetlands and Forests Are Vanishing?

New federal data reveals the regional decline in coastal ecosystems.

== With AFP Story by Mira Oberman: US-oil-pollution-environment-BP-cleanup,FOCUS ==A bird flies over the marsh in Bay Jimmy, a hopeful sign in one of the hardest-hit areas of coastal Louisiana seen on April 7, 2011. Though oil-coated dolphin carcasses and sticky tar balls are washing up on the US Gulf Coast a year after the BP oil spill, the environmental impacts appear -- at least in the short term -- to be surprisingly limited. But scientists have only just begun to analyze the damage and warn it's far too soon to predict what the spill's oily chemical soup might do to the balance of life in Gulf waters. 
National Journal
Ben Geman
Aug. 19, 2014, 9:19 a.m.

 Build­ings, pave­ment, golf courses, and oth­er de­vel­op­ment are tak­ing big bites out of Amer­ica’s coastal wet­lands and forests, and now new fed­er­al data is chart­ing just how much is be­ing lost.

Between 1996 and 2011, total coastal forest cov­er dropped by more than 16,000 square miles””an area roughly the size of Delaware, Mary­land, and Rhode Is­land com­bined. Some 1,536 miles of wet­lands were lost over that peri­od as well, ac­cord­ing to the data from the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Here’s what that looks like in the South­east, where 510 square miles of wet­lands””a swath more than 7 times the size of the Dis­trict of Columbia””van­ished between 1996 and 2011.

+ (NOAA)

De­vel­op­ment gobbled up more than half of that area.

And de­vel­op­ment is a key driver of coastal wet­lands loss na­tion­wide, ac­count­ing for about 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Nate Her­old, a NOAA sci­ent­ist who heads the map­ping pro­gram at NOAA’s Coastal Ser­vices Cen­ter in Char­le­ston, S.C. It’s a less­er cause of coastal forest loss, ac­count­ing for about 8 per­cent, he said.

NOAA, in a sum­mary of the data, noted some good news in Flor­ida, where some areas have seen “mod­est” wet­lands gains due to res­tor­a­tion ef­forts in the Ever­glades and oth­er factors. There has also been some wet­lands res­tor­a­tion in oth­er re­gions as well, Her­old said.

Re­for­est­a­tion ef­forts have slowed the de­cline of coastal forests. More than 27,500 square-miles were lost in coastal re­gions, but re­plant­ing ef­forts kept the net loss to 16,483 square-miles.

Over­all, however, the trend is to­ward dis­ap­pear­ance. Over the 15 years sur­veyed, the Gulf Coast lost 996 miles of wet­lands, “due to land sub­sid­ence and erosion, storms, man-made changes, sea level rise, and oth­er factors,” NOAA said.

Their re­port notes that while the Great Lakes saw some wet­land gains, that was largely be­cause drought and lower lake levels cre­ated new marshes and beaches.

NOAA said that changes to the coastal land­scape can in­crease risks from cli­mate change as bar­ri­ers to rising sea levels and storm surges dis­ap­pear.

The agency hopes that it’s data and map­ping ser­vices, part of its Land Cov­er At­las pro­gram, can help re­gions pre­pare.

“The abil­ity to mit­ig­ate the grow­ing evid­ence of cli­mate change along our coasts with rising sea levels already im­pact­ing coast­lines in ways not im­aged just a few years ago makes the data avail­able through the Land Cov­er At­las pro­gram crit­ic­ally im­port­ant to coastal re­si­li­ence plan­ning,” said Mar­garet Dav­id­son, a top of­fi­cial with NOAA’s ocean and coastal re­source pro­grams.

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