August 29th is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and while many blame a failed government response for the massive and prolonged devastation, a network of nonprofit groups remembers something else -- the wetlands.

Or rather the lack thereof. According to the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), The biomass that thrives in a healthy wetland system acts as a buffer from raging storms, but as they vanish (and vanish fast -- 100 miles in just  the last four years!) the Louisiana coastline is increasingly vulnerable this hurricane season.

I asked Aaron Viles of GRN to explain what is going on in the Louisiana wetlands and about the upcoming screening of the film, Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana:

Says Viles: 

... One of the reasons that Katrina had such a massive impact on New Orleans and South Louisiana communities was due to our coastal wetlands crisis. Because of a national need for flood control and dependable shipping on the Mississippi River, we have straightjacketed the river, keeping it from the estuarine delta marsh and swamp system the river created and once nourished through regular spring floods.

In addition, due to a national need for energy from the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies have dredged tens of thousands of miles of exploration, production and pipeline canals through that estuary, further destroying the hydrology of the system.  

Those decisions have put our coastal wetlands into a crisis state, losing a football field of wetlands every 45 minutes, 25 square miles every year. Gone. Turned to open water and removing the fish and wildlife habitat that fuel the most productive commercial fishing in the lower 48, and the most important MS flyway stopping point on the migratory superhighway.

Of course in the wake of the storms of 2005, we know even more importantly, these wetlands make up natural lines of coastal defenses, allowing our communities to be safe, protecting levees, pumping stations and homes.

We're gearing up for our Katrinaversary film screenings right now. We are working with our supporters to organize over 100 home/community movie screenings all around the country of the powerful documentary, Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana

Thanks to our list of about 50,000 supporters as well as help from musicians REM, Galactic and Marc Broussard, hosts from Puerto Rico to Portland, Ore., are inviting friends and family over for an evening of Louisiana music (thanks to Basin Street Records), and Louisiana images and stories (thanks to filmmaker Jared Arsement). We're providing the civic engagement, and urging every attendee to sign a post card to their senators urging support for a national commitment to Louisiana's coastal = wetlands restoration.

Of course to restore the Mississippi River delta estuary will require addressing a number of issues: putting the river back into the marsh through controlled reintroductions, closing some man-made canals, tackling climate change (sea level rise + stronger storms= bad math for coastal wetlands), and cleaning up the Farm Belt nutrient pollution in the river so it can grow healthy wetlands, not just move the Dead Zone into the marsh.

To learn more check out the Healthy Gulf website. 

Also on MNN: How does El Nino affect hurricane season?

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