Oil Hits Chandeleur Chain: 14 Days After – View from Above

As BP’s oil drilling disaster continues to pump an estimated 210,000 gallons of their crude into the Gulf of Mexico, nearly 3 million gallons have now fouled the marine ecosystem of the Gulf.Weather finally permitted another monitoring flight with Southwings, so yesterday morning pilot Tom Hutchings, photog Matthew White and I took off from Biloxi to check on the containment efforts in the marshes, as well as see if any of the barrier islands or coastal wetlands had been hit with BP’s oil.We checked out areas of the Biloxi Marsh, to see if the planned boom deployment had actually happened. We certainly noted some boom out, but unfortunately, roughly 1/4 of the boom had broken, and it seemed clear that the strategy of closing inlets and bayous to keep interior marsh and ponds clear of oil would fail if the oil entered the area. We didn’t see any of the ‘vessels of opportunity’ deploying or maintaining the booms in the area unfortunately.Flying on, we went to find the oil. Unfortunately, compared with our flights from last week, we didn’t have to go nearly as far to see the sheen and the slick. ‘Slick’ is a misnomer, as the interaction of this crude with the wave action of the Gulf creates a reddish brown ‘mousse’ on the surface. We spotted the mousse on both the the inside and the outside of the Chandeleur Islands, the barrier islands separating the Gulf from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin and the marsh of lower St. Bernard Parish. There were no booms in place to protect the Chandeleurs.Eventually, we spotted an area of the island chain that had been hit, with the reddish mousse clearly apparent on the white sand beach of the island. Our photographer also spotted an associated fish kill in the vicinity. We weren’t the only ones searching for the oil, we caught pilot conversations about Coast Guard cutters on the search to to clean up, as well as a plane carrying Interior Secretary Ken Salazar out observing the event.Following one of the tendrils of mousse, we headed back towards Ship Island and the Mississippi Barrier Islands. The oil ended about ten miles south of the islands, a distance that our pilot estimated would be closed within one tide cycle barring significant winds from the north. I shared this news with our board member, Captain Louis Skrmetta of Ship Island Excursions to see if he could mobilize moreresources to protect this important part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore of the National Park Service.As we flew over Ship and Cat Island, we did see some additional boom deployment, with inlets closed around Cat Island, and large, black booms deployed in a unique aray in front of the leading edge of Ship Island. As we came in for a landing, it was clear that the vast majority of our barrier islands and coastal marshes areexposed and vulnerable, with insufficient efforts on the water to rectify the problem. No skimming or booming was happening to contain or clean up the vast stretches of mousse we encountered.Aaron Viles is GRN’s campaign director

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