The Tar Sands of Grand Isle

gooey tar pervades the sand of grand isle state park, just below the surface

As the Department of Justice moves closer to finalizing the settlement with BP, there is much that leaves us unsettled. Our trip to Grand Isle State Park this past Saturday, 14 November, offered more than a stroll in the sand. 

Many of the usual tar balls were scattered on the beach just yards away from the fishing pier. These hardened, weathered chunks of asphaltene are scattered among mangrove seeds--many of which were sprouting in this unusually warm November. 

More disturbing than these barren seeds of BP's greed, however, are the layers of black revealed by a trench dug only a foot and a half into the sand. Scraping back the surface of the beach has revealed stinking gray and black layers that remain just out of sight. 

This 'tar sand' is saturated with black. When squeezed, it deforms to the contour of a gloved fist. It stinks like a fresh road. This is our state park, where we played, carefree, in the sand in 2009? This is the very same sticky sand where we watched sandpipers, plovers, and dunlins bathe and feed? There were not any of the small piles of sand left by feeding fiddler crabs on this exposed flat. We took several samples of darkened sand that had no smell, to see if we could detect residual oil with Public Lab's beta oil detection kit back in the lab.  

The town of Grand Isle, along with Lafitte and Plaquemines Parish, have refused the settlement monies offered, and continue to press for justice in court. Just a walk on the beach will show you why. 

Scott Eustis is GRN's Coastal Wetland Specialist.

For more pictures, see GRN's Flickr album

BPs tar mixes with black mangrove seeds at the high tide line in Grand Isle State Park.

Weathered tar still sits on the beach at Grand Isle State Park. 

A shallow trench, dug and left open, reveals layers of black underneath saturated sands. 

Exposed, grayer layers revealed by the trench still smelled of tar despite being saturated with water, which can mask the smell of oil. 

These 'tar sands' smell of asphalt and deform to the grip. 

Curious, we sampled other areas to see if Public Lab's testing kit reveals any oil we could not see or smell.

Dunlin, Sandpipers, Plover, and Turnstones shelter from the 25 mph wind in the saltwater grasses on the dune. Many shorebirds feed by digging into these sands.  

Black Mangroves sprout on Grand Isle State Park during a warm El Nino November.

Grand Isle State Park Fishing Pier remains a popular place to catch and release fish like this Black Drum. 


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