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Environmental Condition in Northern Gulf of Mexico Coastal Waters Following Hurricane Katrina

John M. Macauley, Linda C. Harwell and Lisa M. Smith

U.S. EPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Gulf Ecology Division, Gulf Breeze, Florida

On the morning of August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of Louisiana, between New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi, causing massive winds and flooding which resulted in losses of human lives and property. EMAP’s National Coastal Assessment (NCA) design, methodologies, and previously collected data were used to compare the condition of coastal waters before and after the storm. Probabalistic surveys were conducted in Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi Sound from October 9-15, 2005. Data were collected for the core NCA indicators to compare to pre-hurricane conditions, based on results of prior NCA assessments conducted in the same area from 2000 to 2004. Following Hurricane Katrina water quality assessed using the 5 core water quality parameters (DO, Chla, DIN, DIP and water clarity) did not significantly differ from previous years. Based on 5 years of probabilistic survey data, water quality from an ecological perspective was not negatively altered. While some ecological changes could be detected (e.g., effects on benthic communities associated with shifts in salinity), there was no consistent evidence to suggest widespread ecological damage. The design and methods used to collect NCA data allowed us to combine multiple years of data for a comparison to post-Katrina conditions in a specific region of the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The standardized approach used for NCA could be quickly applied to assess the impacts of this disaster.

Keywords: Assessment, Condition, Hurricane Katrina

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