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Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

Louisiana is losing about 25 square miles of wetlands per year. Past storms and construction of levees along the Mississippi River which prevent sediment from reaching the marshes have taken their toll on the coast.

The brightest minds in coastal sciences are meeting this week at the Morial Convention Center.

They said for the first time in a long time things are looking up along the Louisiana coast.

'For the first time in 80 years we're beginning to turn things around with more miles of levees built, more acres of marsh creation than any other time in our state's history,' said Garrett Graves, chairman of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Graves also says billions dollars from a possible settlement over BP oil spill fines and a new state master plan for wetland restoration bode well for the coast.

'You have barrier islands serving as your first line of defense,' Graves said. 'You have marsh creation where we try and take sediment from the Mississippi River and create wetlands, rebuild wetlands. You have diversion projects where you divert fresh water and sediment out of the river.'

While optimistic about the future, experts also are realistic about what can and can't be accomplished through coastal restoration efforts.

'The hope that we would put it back to way it looked back 20s or 30s is something that we've become realistic about and we agree that we can't,' said Chip Groat, President and CEO of the Water Institute of the Gulf. 'We can certainly restore those areas that have sediments available to put back and make marsh.'

Plaquemines Parish isn't waiting on BP money.

The parish will soon begin implementing its own master plan.

'President (Billy) Nungesser and the council have developed a plan to bond out some recurring funds to possibly jump start our program and be able to move our plan forward in the meantime while we're waiting for some of these funds to come through,' Plaquemines Coastal Zone Management Director P.J. Hahn.

Graves said when it comes to coastal erosion, Louisiana is the 'canary in the coal mine.'

'Scientists are predicting sea levels are going to rise all over the world,' Graves said. 'What we're experiencing right now in Louisiana is the sinking or contractions of our coastal area. So, that is in effect the same as sea level rise. The solutions that we're developing here, they are going to have international application for projects worth trillions of dollars around the world.'

The 'State of the Coast 2012' conference continues in New Orleans through Wednesday.

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