Environment
 

Louisiana will use $20 million in BP fines to expand a coastal monitoring program

Louisiana has received $19.5 million in fines from the 2010 BP oil spill to expand a system to collect data on the effect of coastal restoration projects.

The System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program, or SWAMP, monitors changes in Louisiana’s ecosystem over time.

Among other things, it evaluates how human factors like restoration projects and climate change affect the environment, including wildlife, fisheries and certain types of vegetation.

SWAMP will be used to understand changes in the ecosystem, evaluate responses to sea-level rise and protect communities from flooding and other natural disasters, said Syed Khalil, a geologist assistant administrator for the state Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority.

“Ecosystem restoration is very complex,” Khalil said. “What we are doing does not have any boilerplate template, so we need to monitor the results of restoration and then correct or modify our approach, if need be.”

The coastal authority is in charge of an ambitious, $92 billion plan to protect and restore Louisiana’s crumbling coast.

Monitoring began in 2016 along the southeastern coast from Bayou Lafourche to the Chandeleur Sound. The new grant will allow the coastal authority to extend monitoring to the Louisiana-Texas border.

Among the things SWAMP monitors are underwater topography, water quality, water salinity and weather conditions, Khalil said.

As part of the expansion, the system will track shifts in ocean currents and weather patterns.

The program is also designed to check on how Louisiana’s coast is recovering from the 2010 BP spill.

The spill exposed “how fragile and vulnerable coastal Louisiana’s ecosystem is,” Khalil said, “and how important it is to build land, which will form the substrate for robust marshes and barrier islands.”

Two other monitoring programs have already been incorporated into SWAMP. One, the coastal authority’s Coastwide Reference Monitoring System, tracks changes in wetlands.

Another, the Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring Program, helps planners design and maintain restoration projects on the barrier islands.

Estelle Robichaux, an analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote about the importance of SWAMP in coastal restoration in 2015.

She wrote that the expansion was important because it would allow scientists to collect data on parts of Louisiana’s ecosystem that hadn’t been tracked, such as coastal waters, non-tidal freshwater habitats, riverine conditions and fisheries.

The Restore Council, established by Congress as part of the 2012 Restore Act, allocates Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil spill. The money is used for Gulf Coast restoration projects.

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