Gulf Coast ecosystems slow to bounce back after hurricanes

Gulf Coast ecosystems are struggling to rebound from last year’s record hurricane season. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina destroyed over 100 square miles of wetlands in Louisiana alone. They spread salt water inland and killed many plants, including marsh grasses along the Louisiana coast, popular chow for wild ducks. Bird-nesting grounds on Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands — an arc of barrier islands that typically shelter breeding brown pelicans, black skimmers, and more — have vanished. Reefs off the Louisiana and Texas coasts were damaged by waves, buried in sand, and exposed to a plume of contaminated runoff from land. All in all: Yuck. To boot, scientists say human-driven factors — from warming seas to rampant residential and industrial development — are impairing nature’s ability to bounce back from violent storms. The Gulf Coast won’t become a wasteland, they say, but it may end up with a less diverse array of plants and critters.