Oiled rookeries look different 2 years after spill

Apr 20, 2012, 6:31 PM

Associated Press

CAT ISLAND, La. (AP) – Before the BP oil spill, this shrubby island along the Louisiana coast was a lush green rookery where noisy brown pelicans and other birds clamored. Two years later, the island is smaller and ragged, full of dead black mangrove stumps and muddy patches.

Cat Island was one of the first places to be hit by thick mats of oil coming from 50 miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. Crews hired by BP raced to try to protect the island with boom, skims and dispersant, but a lot of the effort was futile. Some of the most iconic images from spill _ confused, struggling pelicans covered in oil _ were seen near these parts.

There are fewer pelicans now on the island, which is washing away, a process perhaps exacerbated by the oil spill.

“It’s eroding like sugar in hot coffee,” said P.J. Hahn, coastal zone manager for Plaquemines Parish, as he looked at Cat Island from a boat on a recent morning.

Hahn studied the island and shook his head. He estimated in the past two years the rookery has shrunk from 4 acres to less than 1.

Cat Island is one of several remote mangrove rookeries at the edge of Barataria Bay and the Gulf of Mexico where a variety of birds nest in safety, far away from predators like raccoons and coyotes that can’t swim in from larger nearby islands and marshlands.

This makes the mangrove islands vital habitat for a host of sea birds like the brown pelican, which had been taken off the list of endangered species shortly before the BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, 2010, and the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster began. Pelicans remain abundant despite the spill, and there’s no talk of putting the bird back on the endangered species list.

Beyond these isles, low-lying coastal Louisiana is experiencing some of the fastest rates of land loss and erosion in the world. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land due to a range of causes, from oil drilling to erecting levees on the Mississippi River.

Richard DeMay, the senior scientist and a veteran birder with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, said it was difficult to gauge just how much the oil spill has increased the erosion.

“We can’t tease out what is natural shoreline erosion from year to year and what was caused by the oil spill,” he said. “We do know that there are less birds on those island than there have been because those islands are shrinking.”

There are plans to try to rebuild Cat Island and four nearby islands.

Hahn said the parish has about $1.3 million to spend on Cat Island. The plan is to place concrete barriers around the island and pump in mud to build it back. DeMay said he was working on plans for four nearby islands owned by the Apache Corp., an oil and gas company. He said about $1.5 million has been donated for that work, with $1 million coming from Shell, the oil giant.

“For these islands, it’s desperate times,” DeMay said. “If we don’t do anything soon, we will lose them.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

A hiring sign is displayed at a restaurant in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. America...
Associated Press

A surprising burst of US hiring in January: 517,000 jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — For nearly a year, the Federal Reserve has been on a mission to cool down the job market to help curb the nation’s worst inflation bout in four decades. The job market hasn’t been cooperating. Consider what happened in January: The government said Friday that employers added a sizzling 517,000 jobs last […]
10 hours ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)...
Associated Press

$580M headed to 15 Native American tribes to fulfill water rights

Fifteen Native American tribes will get a total of $580 million to fund settlements that ensure access to water that's legally theirs.
1 day ago
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

Biden’s handwritten notes part of classified documents probe

Some of President Joe Biden's handwritten notes are now a part of a special counsel’s investigation into the handling of classified documents.
1 day ago
Groundhog handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, who saw his shadow, predicting a late sprin...
Associated Press

Punxsutawney Phil sees shadow on Groundhog Day, predicting longer winter

Punxsutawney Phil’s “inner circle” summoned him from his tree stump at dawn on Groundhog Day to learn if he has seen his shadow.
1 day ago
A hiring sign is displayed outside of a restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill., Monday, Jan. 30, 202...
Associated Press

Job market still hot, December openings rise to 11 million

U.S. job openings rose to 11 million in December, delivering a setback to the Federal Reserve's effort to cool a hot job market.
2 days ago
(AP Photo/John Locher)...
Associated Press

Is pumping Mississippi River water to the west a solution or dream?

Amid a major drought in the Western U.S., a proposed solution comes up repeatedly: large-scale river diversions.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Oiled rookeries look different 2 years after spill