Louisiana coastal issues were brought to light to the University community Tuesday by the head of the nation's oceanic administration.

Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., retired U.S. Navy, the leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, spoke to University students, faculty and staff about programs that NOAA is working on to further restore the nation's coast.

Lautenbacher, who is also the NOAA undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said one of NOAA's missions is to manage coastal resources to meet the nation's economic, social and environmental needs.

Coastal population in the United States has increased since 2003.

In 2003, 153 million people lived on or near the coast, while NOAA projects that in 2008, the population will increase to 160 million.

Lautenbacher said finding ways to rebuild and restore coastlines around America will decrease the risk to life, property and coastal habitats.

One program Lautenbacher spoke about was the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. The alliance includes all five Gulf coast states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

These five states have agreed to create a joint ocean policy and mission for recovery and conservation.

Lautenbacher said NOAA also works to improve the Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Project.

The project's goal is to reduce prediction errors to help residents of hurricane-prone areas evacuate.

"It's not understood well enough in the nation," Lautenbacher said. "If you don't understand the topography where you are, you will have a very difficult time creating models and forecasting the future for almost anything."

NOAA is also working on restoring Louisiana's habitats.

"After Katrina, people focused immediately on problems of rebuilding the levees," Lautenbacher said. "We need to deal with the whole system. We need to deal with the barrier islands, the wetlands."

Lautenbacher said fisheries are important to the Gulf, which has been negatively affected by hurricanes.

Hypoxia is another issue Lautenbacher spoke about. Hypoxic zones are areas in the Gulf where oxygen has been completely depleted, causing the death of several aquatic organisms.

Hypoxia occurs because excess nutrients are dumped into the Mississippi River and then flow into the Gulf.

"Now we have a law that tells us we have to have more ethanol," Lautenbacher said. "So what are we doing? We are dumping more stock into the Mississippi."

Lautenbacher said he hopes to get these issues widely known and visible to the public.

"I think there is an opportunity with the change in [presidential] administration to get these issues out in the open," Lautenbacher said.

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Contact J.J. Alcantara at jalcantara@lsureveille.com

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