Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
A Bad Spill
When the news hit of this spring’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it was hard not to think of how much more environmental damage this would bring to regions already so battered by natural disasters. Oil-covered birds and dying sea turtles are dramatic evidence of the damage to wildlife, but we don’t yet know for certain the extent of the spill’s less-visible impacts on coastal ecosystems.
Writing about the devastation to Louisiana’s wetlands, Dr. Larry McKinney, executive director of Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, discussed the ecosystem services – the direct or indirect contributions that the environment makes to the well-being of the human population – that the wetlands provide. “Every mile of wetlands can reduce storm surge by as much as a foot,” he wrote. “That means billions saved in lost property, not to mention lives.”
The wetland complex also, according to McKinney, provides natural filtration, cleaning water of pollution and contaminants. “That service alone saves us millions of dollars in annual treatment costs and allows us to live by the sea and not a sewage pond.”
What distinguishes this spill from the Exxon Valdez spill or the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 is that a beach or rocks can be cleaned of oil with great expense and difficulty, but wetlands will hold on to toxins for years. The Washington Post reported that southern Louisiana’s affected wetlands are dominated by the sponge-like cordgrass that can’t be washed. Oil could smother the exposed air-breathing roots of mangroves, killing the trees that support vast marine life in Florida – which at the time of publication was under imminent threat due to the Loop Current of warm water circulating in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that would wash the oil in to the Florida Bay and the Everglades ecosystem of which it is a part.
Last summer Wildflower magazine reported on conservation-minded development of our nation’s coastlines, particularly in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes that have so plagued the decade. We reported that coastal landscapes – barrier islands, dunes, wetlands, grassy marshes, woodlands and mangroves – provide protection from the winds, waves and surge of storms, protection worth an estimated $23.2 billion per year. One year later, our nation finds itself again at a crisis point where its coastlines are concerned. With a mission to promote the sustainable use and conservation of native landscapes, the Wildflower Center will continue to urge your support for initiatives that protect these great American treasures – in the face of disaster and always.