State of the Beach/State Reports/LA/Beach Description
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Because of the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s coastline is primarily wetlands. There are areas of coastal beaches, however, including the barrier island Grand Isle, as well as some beaches on the Texas border and on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Louisiana has 15,000 miles of winding shoreline that extends from the Pearl River westward to the Sabine River. The delicate coastal zone habitats, located in nineteen southern parishes, are an intricate inter-weaving of ecological systems. Renewable and non-renewable coastal resources abound in these areas. Because the Coastal Zone (see following paragraph) is ecologically and economically among the world's richest estuarine regions, it is of vital public interest to manage this area with sound public policies.
NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management recently approved a new inland boundary for the Louisiana Coastal Management Program. The Louisiana state legislature revised the state’s coastal zone boundary based on results of a two-year, comprehensive, science-based study that recommended expanding the boundary to better meet the state’s management needs. The state was concerned that the original boundary established in 1978 did not include all wetlands under coastal influence, that water quality in the coastal zone can be significantly affected by activities occurring outside the coastal zone, and that the coastline has changed significantly since the original boundary was established. Louisiana’s new coastal zone boundary incorporates a net increase of 1,887 additional square miles, about a 12.6 percent increase. The entire boundary now includes a 10-million-acre area that encompasses 32 percent of the state and approximately 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands.
Louisiana’s flat coastal lowlands are occupied mainly by marshes, swamps, lakes, bays, and sluggish, wandering tidal streams; they also include about 200 miles of the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya River, and several lesser rivers. The coastal region extends east-west between the Sabine River on the western border with Texas to the Pearl River boundary with Mississippi. It is convenient to consider its northern boundary as interstate highways I-10 and I-12, which cross the state at the latitude of Baton Rouge. Although this area contains parishes that are not strictly coastal because they do not abut on the Gulf of Mexico, they are inextricably tied to the coastal parishes in geography, economy, culture, and spirit and thus must be considered coastal.
Coastal Louisiana is in every sense a product of the Mississippi River: a region created through 7,000 years of cyclical delta building and abandonment, as the river pursued a relentless search for the shortest route to the Gulf of Mexico. Three distinctive land forms emerged: the alluvial valley, the deltaic plain, and the chenier plain. The alluvial valley is identified by low, sinuous asymmetrical natural levee ridges of river silt formed during seasonal overbank flooding. These natural levees slope gently away from their parent channels and grade into heavy clay and muck deposits occupied for the most part by forests and swamps. The deltaic plain, formed by sediments deposited thickly by the Mississippi River as it entered the Gulf of Mexico, is a composite of five major deltas and supports vast fresh- and saltwater marshes.
The chenier plain, in southwestern Louisiana, resulted when eastward and westward shifts in the Mississippi’s course provided alternating supplies of fine and coarse sediments that accumulated on the shelf, were reworked by strong littoral currents, and resulted in beaches flanked by mud flats. Today the area is characterized by sandy, oakcrowned cheniers, or ridges, with intervening marshy swales.
Throughout the coastal region, and especially near the Gulf of Mexico, land suitable for farming, cities, and travel routes is primarily confined to natural levees along the Mississippi and the bayous that denote locations of the river’s abandoned distributary channels.
Historical Land Loss in Coastal Louisiana
Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930's (Barras et al. 1994, Barras et al. 2003, Dunbar et al. 1992). Currently Louisiana has 30% of the total coastal marsh and accounts for 90% of the coastal marsh loss in the lower 48 states (Dahl 2000, Field et al. 1991, USGS 2003).
Current Rate of Coastal Land Loss
Between 1990 and 2000, wetland loss was approximately 24 square miles per year- that is the equivalent of approximately one football field lost every 38 minutes. The projected loss over the next 50 years, with current restoration efforts taken into account, is estimated to be approximately 500 square miles (Barras et al. 2003). According to land loss estimates, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita transformed 217 square miles of marsh to open water in coastal Louisiana (USGS 2006).
Also see Louisiana Coastal Facts.
Louisiana Coastal Area Comprehensive Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Study (LCA)
The goal of the LCA Study is to gain a federal and state commitment to a large-scale ecosystem restoration program in coastal Louisiana.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's Draft 2012 Coastal Master Plan is based on a two year analysis involving some of the state’s best scientists as well as national and international specialists. The state used this analysis to select 145 high performing projects that could deliver measurable benefits to our communities and coastal ecosystem over the coming decades.
America’s Wetland Foundation
In the largest public awareness initiative in its history, Louisiana is leading America's WETLAND: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana. The America's WETLAND Foundation through the Campaign is raising awareness of the impact of Louisiana's wetland loss and increase support for efforts to conserve and save coastal Louisiana.
- Fact 1: 7,721 miles of tidal shoreline
- Fact 2: 149 miles of open ocean coastline
- Fact 3: Population of coastal counties (2000): 2,481,335
- Fact 4: More than 50% of the state's population lived within coastal parishes before Hurricane Katrina.
Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency
Coastal Zone Management Program
The Office of Coastal Management is responsible for the maintenance and protection of the state's coastal wetlands. The main function of the Office of Coastal Management is the regulation of uses in the Louisiana coastal zone, especially those which have a direct and significant impact on coastal waters. It is the goal of the Office of Coastal Management to protect, develop, and restore or enhance the resources of the state's coastal zone.
Under authority of the Louisiana State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act of 1978, as amended (Act 361, La. R.S. 49:214.21 et seq), the Office of Coastal Management of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources is charged with implementing the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP). The law seeks to encourage multiple uses of resources and adequate economic growth while minimizing adverse impacts of one resource use upon another without imposing undue restrictions on any user. In order to successfully accomplish this, a balance must be struck between conservation and resources.
The Office of Coastal Management regulates development activities and manages the resources of the Coastal Zone, especially those which have a direct and significant impact on coastal waters. The office is comprised of two closely related divisions: the Permits/Mitigation Division and the Interagency Affairs, Field Services & Compliance Division. It is the function of Office of Coastal Management, through its staff, to maintain, protect, develop, and restore or enhance the invaluable coastal region of the state of Louisiana.
NOAA's latest evaluation of Louisiana's Coastal Management Program can be found here.
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