Now that the well that spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months has been capped, researchers and Gulf coast residents are looking at the fallout for the region's delicate wetlands. The oil has killed off many patches of plants and marshes that have already been under siege for decades from hurricanes, floods and industrial operations.
Scientists say there isn't much that can be done about the oil-covered plants, since entering wetlands to clean the oil could do more harm than good to delicate root systems. The oil and gas industry has been hurting marshlands for 60 years, as well drilling and canal building meant to extract and transport fossil fuels has taken its toll.
The consequences of the wetland destruction range from destroyed fisheries and migratory bird routes to lost protection from devastating hurricanes and natural disasters. Marshland restoration advocates are pinning their hopes on the Clean Water Act, under which BP could be fined billions of dollars that could be used to reverse coastal erosion.
"People have to realize that this is not just Louisiana's coastal zone; it's the United States' coastal zone. This habitat, we're losing anywhere between 25 to 30 square miles of coastline a year. There is no equivalent anywhere else in the United States where we're using the coast that fast." - Dr. Ralph Portier, professor, Louisiana State University
"You can't really clean it up. You know, you can try to put some water in the system to flush out some of the oil, but, you know, getting in there to physically try to remove the oil will likely do more harm than good, because we will actually be driving oil into the root system." - Dr. Aaron Viles, campaign director, Gulf Restoration Network
"When you look at the pictures, it looks horrific, when you see all the different canals that were drilled and different fields where's there are lots of canals that are dug. And, today, that's not the mode of the industry. That's not what we do in the industry any longer, because we have technology where we can drill from one site. And we use old sites." - Don Briggs, president, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association
1. What are wetlands? What purposes do they serve?
2. What industries are especially important to the Gulf region?
3. What is erosion?
1. Based on what you learned from the video, what role do you think wetland erosion might have played in the Hurricane Katrina disaster and other hurricanes that have hit the Gulf coast?
2. Can you think of a natural resource like wetlands that is disappearing or endangered near where you live? What consequences could there be if the problem isn't fixed?
3. According to the video, what role does saltwater play in marsh erosion? Why might keeping saltwater out of marshlands be a challenge in the Gulf region?