Tracking BP’s oil near Barataria Bay

Last Gulf Restoration Network staff joined shrimpers Clint Guidry and Glenn J. Poche, Sr., to assess the ongoing impacts from and response to BP’s oil drilling disaster on the Gulf Coast.The winds and waters of coastal Louisiana were calm again after days of stormy weather, enabling a first-hand look at the disaster’s effects on fragile wetlands between Lafitte and Grand Isle. Independent Monitoring”We’re trying to get an independent handle on what’s going on, not what BP and the U.S. Coast Guard are telling us,” Cynthia Sartou, GRN’s executive director, said.Though GRN staff did not see much oil in the water, we witnessed a pod of dolphins surfacing through an oil sheen in Bayou Wilkinson as small, silvery bait fish jumped out of the water all around Clint Guidry’s flat-bottomed skiff.”They are jumping because they are trying to get out of the oil,” Guidry said. Our nostrils and eyes burned from the smell of oil, which grew stronger throughout the day as the heat rose.Community ImpactsEntering Bay Jimmy, Poche explained how he had caught 5,300 pounds of shrimp in one day in May in this area, which is now closed to fishing. He hasn’t been able to fish in over a month.Poche, known as “Big Duddy,” said he had been expecting to have one of his best years ever for shrimp before the areas were closed due to the oil drilling disaster.He’s worried the impact from the disaster, piled on top of the ongoing loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands due to erosion, sea water intrusion, subsidence and oil and gas development, will prevent his grandson from being able to make a living fishing.”I don’t know what to tell him,” Poche said. “I can’t tell him to be a fisherman.”Guidry is concerned about the unprecedented amount of chemical dispersant being pumped into and sprayed on the Gulf of Mexico, and how that oil and dispersant mix is affecting the coast’s underwater ecology.”They are not even testing the seafood for dispersants,” Guidry said.Wetlands Destruction from Oil and Gas IndustryAs we made our way through the marsh to Barataria Bay, Poche and Guidry pointed out the expansive network or oil and gas canals and pipelines that continue to eat away at Louisiana’s coast, allowing saltwater intrusion and disrupt natural water flows.The canals, lined on either side by vegetated berms built by dredging spoils, were a vivid contrast to the natural bayous that meandered through the watery prairie of the marsh.Once in Barataria Bay, we head toward a small cluster of isolated islands that are home to pelican rookeries and are rapidly giving way to open water.The onboard GPS on Guidry’s boat showed us motoring over islands and chains of islands, but all around was nothing but open water. Nearly all the islands on the map had disappeared.”If you look at this map right now, we’re on land,” Poche said. “And this map isn’t that old.”Today, Louisiana loses a football field of coastal land about every 40 minutes.”Over here were a couple of big islands. In fact, one of them was called Big Island,” Guidry said.Clean Up and ResponseWith weather now allowing for a return to work, dozens of boats could be seen in the bay replacing boom that had been broken apart by the storm and picking up oiled absorbent boom.Helicopters from a visiting Congressional delegation roared overhead and lead to some skepticism that the flurry of activity may have been more show than substance.In the bay, pairs of shrimp boats with boom between that can be used to skim oil sat idle, as did a fleet of barges on vacuum trucks.Work seemed to be focused on replacing damaged boom, but despite the scores of boats in the bay, red and orange boom could be seen blown into the mangroves that pelicans use as nesting areas in the Crane Islands.Though most of the birds appeared free of oil, one oiled pelican beat its wings repeatedly in the water in an apparent attempt to clean itself.And there were plenty of reminders that boom could not guarantee that oil was not getting on the marsh.On the windward side of numerous islands the grassy shores and mangroves were stained black with oil, even though there appeared to be several layers of boom surrounding them. And in some areas, wind and waves had pushed oiled boom into fragile wetlands.”This is thirty year old technology they are using,” Guidry said. “This isn’t going to protect the coast.”Matthew Preusch is a volunteer with the Gulf Restoration Network.

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