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Louisiana's shrinking coasts face a new threat. In addition to sinking land, sea level rise and erosion, a tiny bug from the other side of the ocean is killing off marshes. This week the state issued an emergency quarantine. Travis Lux reports from member station WWNO in New Orleans.
TRAVIS LUX, BYLINE: Down near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Roseau cane is everywhere, tall and bright-green as far as the eye can see. But about a year and a half ago, people realized that giant swaths of it were dying. Todd Baker is one of the state biologists checking it out.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOAT ENGINE REVVING UP)
LUX: From the front of a boat, Baker bends over and grabs a long, slender piece of cane. It's brown and half-dead. He peels it apart to reveal the killer - a tiny little insect.
TODD BAKER: So if you look at your, say, your fingernail on your pinky, the adult version can get almost that big.
LUX: Baker works for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
BAKER: It burrows or puts a little nose into the cane and withdraws the sap, and that's what kills it.
LUX: He says the bug is invasive, from either China or Japan. So far, officials say that more than 200,000 acres of cane have been devastated across the state.
BAKER: It takes a lot to kill it. The fact that it's being killed this quickly is alarming. I've never seen anything like this.
LUX: When the cane dies, the soil around it loosens and can easily be washed into the main river channel. The shipping industry was one of the first to notice when a pilot thought the cane looked a little patchy and reported it.
MICHAEL MILLER: This is a big, big, big, big issue for Louisiana.
LUX: Captain Michael Miller heads a group that pilots ships on the Mississippi. He worries the dying cane will make the job harder. Roseau is what holds the river banks together. And if the banks start to disintegrate, that could mean a lot more work for the Army Corps of Engineers.
MILLER: There will have to be constant dredging to keep that channel open because it will be - the sands from the Gulf of Mexico and mud and whatnot will be able to wash back and forth.
LUX: To keep the bug from spreading any more, Louisiana has now issued a quarantine. Mike Strain is the state's agriculture and forestry commissioner.
MIKE STRAIN: We want to make sure it doesn't get out of control and could end up either mutating or modifying or start affecting our agricultural crops, as well.
LUX: The quarantine basically limits how far people can move the plant. It's aimed mostly at duck hunters who often cut pieces of cane to camouflage themselves. Cassidy Lejeune is with Ducks Unlimited.
CASSIDY LEJEUNE: It won't be as easy. Take a little bit more effort in trying to figure out what other materials they could use.
LUX: But he supports the quarantine. There's still not a clear long-term solution though. In China, the cane is sometimes burned to get rid of the bug. But that would be a bad idea in Louisiana. The state is crisscrossed with oil and gas pipelines. There are pesticides. But officials worry that that could hurt fish and shrimp, a big industry here. Agriculture Commissioner Strain says the state needs more time to figure it out. Congress just allocated more money for the problem but for now the quarantine will have to do.
STRAIN: Well that's our best chance, right? Our best chance, period.
LUX: Meanwhile the invasive bug is on the move. A local University scientist says he thinks he just found some in neighboring Texas. In New Orleans, I'm Travis Lux.
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