, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 189-198

Direct impacts of outer continental shelf activities on wetland loss in the central Gulf of Mexico

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Abstract

The direct impacts of outer continental shelf (OCS) development on recent wetland loss in the northern Gulf of Mexico were quantified using aerial imagery, field surveys, and literature review. The total direct impacts accounted for an estimated 25.6 percent of total net wetland loss within the Louisiana portion of the study area from 1955/56 to 1978. Of the total direct impacts of 73,905 ha, OCS-related activities accounted for 11,589-13,631 ha of the wetland loss during the same time interval. Although this is a substantial areal loss, it represents only 4.0-4.7 percent of the total Louisiana wetland loss from 1955/56 to 1978, and 15.7–18.4 percent of direct impacts.

Direct impacts from OCS pipelines averaged 2.49 ha/km, lower than published guidelines, and totalled 12,012 ha. Lowest impacts are for backfilled pipelines in the Chenier Plain of western Louisiana and for small young pipelines built in clustered rights-of-way. Widening of OCS pipeline canals does not appear to be an important factor for total net wetland loss in the coastal zone because few pipelines are open to navigation and, for the examples found, the impact width was not significantly different than for open pipelines closed to navigation. Navigation channels account for a minimum of 16,902 ha of habitat change. Direct impacts per unit length of navigation channel average 20 times greater than pipelines.