Isaac Leaves Significant Environmental Impact on Coast, Wildlife

By James Haralson

As Hurricane Isaac made landfall on the Louisiana coast as a Category 1 storm, residents across the state experienced widespread flooding, power outages, and wind damage.

By the time the storm hit Louisiana, nearly all of the southeastern parishes declared curfews, while parishes like Plaquemines and Tangipahoa issued mandatory evacuations due to devastating flooding.

But as residents slowly return to their normal lifestyles, the environmental impact from Hurricane Isaac could prove problematic for the state and the gulf coasts.

Researchers are warning of the devastating environmental impact Hurricane Isaac could have on the fragile gulf coast, which is still recovering from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In a recent OurAmazingPlanet article, experts are concerned with the storm’s ability to distribute the “sediments in which the spilled oil is buried.” This transporting of oiled sediments is made possible by Hurricane Isaac’s storm surge, which some experts told OurAmazingPlanet reached anywhere from 6 to 12 feet along the Louisiana coastline.

According to the Associated Press (AP), BP is already reporting that Hurricane Isaac exposed deposits of buried tar. “As this area has undergone severe coastal erosion by Hurricane Isaac, much of the oil has now been exposed,” Ray Melick, a BP spokesman, told the AP.

The AP is also reporting that “tar balls and oil” have appeared on Alabama and Louisiana beaches from the storm surge.

Hurricane Isaac has had a significant impact on wildlife. Although the extent of impact is not conclusive, U.S. Coast Guard and state officials told the Houston Chronicle that teams are currently searching for any wildlife affected by Hurricane Isaac. So far state officials have rescued three oil-covered birds.

According to the Houston Chronicle, state officials have received about “90 reports of pollution directly linked to the hurricane.”

Lt. Commander Lushan Hannah, who heads the Coast Guard’s pollution response, told the Houston Chronicle that the department responds “to every pollution report that comes in,” and teams are immediately dispatched to the problem area to assess the damage and enact a speedy cleanup.

While the storm brought in oiled sediments to the coastline and affected wildlife, some experts contend that Hurricane Isaac could have an even bigger impact on one crucial area: coastal erosion.

OurAmazingPlanet cited a report from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which noted that Hurricane Isaac likely caused “significant erosion of 89 percent of Mississippi’s beaches.”

In Louisiana, the main concern is loss of wetlands. Meteorologist Jeff Masters told OurAmazingPlanet he expects to see “50-100 square miles” of destroyed wetlands from Hurricane Isaac.

As the gulf coast continues to recover from Hurricane Isaac, experts will be able to get a more accurate assessment of the storm’s environmental impact.

What is clear is that Hurricane Isaac did not help the gulf coast recovery from the BP oil spill, as it churned up more oiled sediment to the coastline, negatively impacted wildlife, and placed significant strain on the coastline and Louisiana’s wetlands.