Yesterday, I made a second attempt of the week to venture out into Barataria Bay, Bay Jimmy and other points of interest to check on Hurricane Isaac impacts.
Along with Joe Smyth and Jesse Coleman from Greenpeace, we made it from New Orleans to the 6am convoy that took us over the Mississippi river levee along LA Hwy. 23 near Myrtle Grove. In Port Sulphur, we met up with charter boat captain Todd Seitler from Cajun Fishing Adventures and launched from a private launch. Several other launches were either too damaged or too clogged with storm debris to operate.
I happened to run into Linda Hooper-Bui who was launching from the same place to go check on her research into the impacts the BP disaster is having on insects in northern Barataria and Bay Jimmy. Linda mentioned that the marsh at one of her sights in Bay Batiste near Bayou Dulac had fresh oil on it. So, without haste, we headed that way.
Indeed, there was fresh oil coating the marsh grass. It reminded me of late May 2010, the first time I saw BP’s oil make landfall.
We collected some samples and moved on to survey nearby Bay Jimmy, and we picked key spots where I could jump out and check for oil. At all of these locations, I found old, weathered oil presumably from BP, but none of the fresh stuff we found at that first location in Batiste.
After Bay Jimmy, I asked Todd to take us down to some of the pelican rookeries in Barataria Bay. We made it to Cat Island and Bird Island. Cat Island was even more eroded than I had seen just a couple of months ago. Same for Bird Island. Both were heavily impacted with BP’s oil and face the additional threat of extinction from erosion. On Bird Island, I jumped out of the boat and took a look around. I found old, weathered oil, likely BP’s. Most of the mangrove tress that the pelicans nest in are dead. I fear that the island will not survive too much more hardship.
After the rookeries, we explored more of northern Barataria marsh to see if there was any more fresh oil other than what was found in Bay Batiste. Todd to slowly worked his boat along the shoreline of southern Bay Jimmy and southern Bay Batiste so that I could scout it out. To the untrained eye, one would probably not be able to see the fresh oil on the shore from 50 yards away while moving along on a small craft. Unfortunately, my eyes are no longer untrained and at one point I immediately yelled to Todd to stop the boat. We were at the southwestern tip of Bay Batiste when I spotted what I thought was oiling. We made landfall and jumped out to get a closer look.
Sure enough, fresh oil everywhere. We collected samples and made our way north along the edge and eventually east back toward Bayou Dulac. The entire marsh shoreline is coated in fresh oil. The oil goes back at least 30 meters in some areas. This is not good. So far, we have not been able to determine the source. If and when we do, we will let you know. New reports to the National Response Center have been made. In the meantime, here is a look at the photos:
Jonathan Henderson is the Coastal Resiliency Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network.