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New research shows bugs not culprit in killing off Louisiana coastline

Scale on a stalk of Roseau cane (John Snell) Scale on a stalk of Roseau cane (John Snell)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

Tonight we have new details on some invasive bugs that state researchers initially blamed as part of the problem behind Louisiana’s disappearing coast. While some small bugs, called scales may still be part of the problem, there is another bigger factor at play.

State researchers first noticed these tiny bugs called scales in 2016. At the same time they noticed Roseau cane started browning in the marsh. Dying cane is a problem because - the cane is part of our protective coast. They thought the bug was the problem, but not anymore.

LSU researcher Linda Hooper-Bui says they believe browning of the cane is more likely linked to a pre -existing issue.

She said, “One of the things we learned from the oil spill is stressed plants bring a lot of insects to the plants and generate a lot of insects that suck on the juice of the plants.”

Their studies raised more questions: if the scales are only a symptom of the browning Roseau cane-- what's the cause?

“The water level we're seeing high miss river levels also the El Nino that causes these south winds to flow the water and stack the water in the marsh so we think the cane is very stressed form the water so we think the cane is drowning,” she said.

If the cane is drowning, PJ Hahn with Pelican Coast Consulting says that further supports the concern of a disappearing coast.

“One of the things we were always careful of is the vegetation and losing vegetation anywhere along the coast,” he said.

Hahn, a former coast director with Plaquemines parish says when they began noticing the scales, a lot of people were skeptical something so small could kill off so many plants.

"It's kind of a relief in that it’s the stress on the plants and that it’s the environment the plants are in not the bug because they're finding the same problems with Roseau cane where the bugs do not exist,” he said.

But where a bug maybe could have been solved by some pesticide, Hahn predicts saving the coast just turned into a much bigger and costlier puzzle.

"We're sinking like a rock and the waters rising around us so it’s critical to be able to protect this area and rebuild our marshes land and habitat that were once there,” he said.

Hooper-Bui said they looked at a lot of other potential factors like chemicals and water currents. She said they're not ruling the scales out as a potential to killing the Roseau cane, but believes the research doesn't point to that.

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