Death In The Marsh

pass chaland

The tragedy of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill takes a particularly devastating twist near Bay Joe Wise and Bay Chaland. The newly completed barrier shoreline restoration project has increased back-barrier, emergent marsh area by approximately 220 acres. Click here for exclusive video of the oil spill direct from Louisiana >> For more of our coverage of the Oil Spill, see the following galleries: Troubled Waters >> Waiting Game >>
The marsh is now home to varied wildlife including roseatte spoonbills (once decimated to the point in which fewer than 30 to 40 pairs were known to exist) and reddish egrets which are considered threatened. We hurriedly snapped this photo after spotting 4 spoonbills and an egret together, not more than a mile from the Bay Chaland beach awash in tarballs and oiled gulls. Do these birds stand much of a chance?
On the beach, insidious tar balls seemed to be everywhere.
Tar balls are pieces of weathered oil that can be carried hundreds and hundreds of miles by the ocean current. We were more than 100 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon sank. Although the "freshest" of the gooey sludge lay at the high-tide line and beyond, wave action continually replenished the mess fairly coating the beach.
They may appear innocuous, but tar balls are death traps for all manner of shorebirds. It is extremely viscous and sticky.
As Captain Ryan Lambert and I looked more closely within the first line of waves, we could see hundreds if not thousands of balls about to be deposited onto the sand.
If you stepped either onto a tar ball or into the more liquid oil, it was extremely difficult to remove.
It coats all that comes in contact with it.
Fingernail-sized shellfish coated the beach and Lambert and I both speculated that either direct contact with oil or residual effects of dispersants may have killed them. Blogger Mark Pine discussed the topic recentely on markpine.us "BP is using chemicals called dispersants to break up the oil, according to news reports. In fact, Scientific American says that the company has already commandeered a third of the world's entire supply. Unfortunately, the dispersants are toxic, too. Breaking up the oil slicks makes them less visible to the eye and the camera, and it does reduce the problems at the shorelines and for birds diving for fish, but the oil doesn't disappear. After dispersion, the oil remains in the ocean. A graphical illustration on the NY Times website indicates that shrimp and other shellfish are "more vulnerable to oil and chemical dispersants because they are stationary."
Many of the tar balls we saw were encrusted with tiny shellfish.
Washed-up vegetation was also coated with the brownish goo.
Ryan Lambert, Cajun Fishing Adventures: "This has just sucked the wind right out of me. I was optimistic up until now."
Both tar balls and oil are buried beneath the beach sand when the tides rise.
Lambert and I walked several miles of tar ball and shellfish-littered beach.
Oiled pelicans sadly stood watch on Bastian Bay. Note the condition of the bird on the right. In a badly weakened condition, the bird had little time to live. Patrolling bird rescue volunteers were ready with fish nets once the pelican became too weakened to resist capture.
Where there's a crisis, there's--seemingly--a reason to have a beer. These Miller Lite signs appear in many southern Louisiana store windows.
Former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and current CEO of Ducks Unlimited, Dale Hall, told us about a horror show that might take place in the Louisiana marshes in just a few months when migrating ducks and geese head south--directly into oil. Saving millions of ducks and geese is not just impractical, but impossible.
Military personnel are on hand in southern Louisiana to help build barriers to encroaching oil.
Hundreds of oiled birds, many of them brown pelicans, have been treated at the Ford Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana. At least 75 birds across the Gulf coast have died. Workers provide twice daily updates on their bird-cleaning efforts. Oiled birds have a 50 percent chance of survival.
The tote board at the Fort Jackson rehab center.
A brown pelican is processed and ready for de-oiling.
Crab traps sit idle in a Buras, Louisiana backyard.
An oiled feather. Did this bird make it?
Although difficult to tell from one image, this gull is badly weakened from its oiled condition.
A hermit crab crawled amid tar balls on the beach.
A badly oiled brown pelican clings to life on Bastian Bay.
These mottled ducks show evidence of having been in contact with oil. In a few months, millions of ducks will descend on southern Louisiana marshes.
Some of the heaviest surface oil could be seen in waters of the Pass A Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

oil spill last Pass-A-Loutre

oil spill last--heavy oil

oiled catfish

Much remains unresolved in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, however, there is no doubt that death has already come to the marsh. As Lambert says: "It's like a hurricane--you know it's coming, you just don't know exactly when or how hard it's going to hit."

It will likely take years if not decades to determine the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Here are just a few of the foreboding images we gathered.

For exclusive video from Louisiana click HERE