Woods, wetlands, and marine ecosystems hit hard by storm, pollution

The Gulf Coast’s estuaries, wetlands, and cypress swamps are hurting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm damaged 25 national wildlife refuges, and recovery costs are expected to be at least $93 million — about a quarter of the federal refuge budget. In Mississippi’s Noxubee refuge, pine trees crucial to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker were flattened, while the coastal Breton Island bird sanctuary was virtually washed away. Experts suspect that offshore ecosystems have been swamped by sewage-laced floodwaters, which may cause blooms of oxygen-sucking algae. And then there are the industrial toxins and petroleum in the water being pumped out of New Orleans. Overall, some fear Katrina may be the final blow for many of the region’s plants and critters. “All of those things, entirely unique to that part of the world, have been disappearing since about, say, 1927,” says Louisianan Steve Cochran of Environmental Defense, “and now they’ve disappeared altogether.”