Outdoor Life Special Correspondent Joel Lucks filed this report from the Buras area: Tug boats and 'Vessels of Opportunity' stand ready all the along the Mississippi River for the first signs of oil appearing. So far, the Venice and Buras areas seemed to have dodged a bullet.
Flat barges are stacked with pipelines to be available for collecting oil or for permanent lines, to be installed later on.
The “Vanishing Paradise” initiative recently launched by the National Wildlife Federation, is poignantly represented by these remains of a section of the marshland that was once much larger. Weather definitely adds to erosion, but when canals are cut through marshland, and islands that would normally hold them together are broken up and the sand and mud are washed into the Gulf and eventually dropped off the Continental Shelf, that sand is lost for ever from the marshlands.
Leaving the Venice Marina, it becomes clear that every possible living space – house boats especially – are being taken up with workers and crew members and used as temporary living quarters.
Boats that would normally be out in the Gulf fishing are now kept tied to the docks during these uncertain times. Certainly areas are still open to fishing, but commercial boats are the apparent hostages.
Frustration and dismay shroud the otherwise hustling and bustling fishing fever of the Gulf with sentiments such as “No Bright Star.” Where the word “No” was obviously painted after the fact on the transom of this trawler to express frustration with how the spill is being handled.
To pay bills, and the help with the clean up, “Vessels of Opportunity,” such as this one are hired to ferry back and forth oil booms and other equipment that can help in the clean up.
Signs abound like, ‘Warning Do Not Anchor or Dredge,’ or ‘Gas Pipeline Crossing,’ are constant reminders of how the marshlands have changed so much, and so rapidly, in the past decades.” It’s been reported by the National Wildlife Federation that ‘every 30 minutes another area of coastline the size of a football field disappears.’ That’s how fragile the Louisiana coastline has become.
Swamp boats are being utilized for fast transportation to get workers out onto local boats that are helping with the preparation for the clean-up. Some crews are even being transported to the beaches.
Ben Weber, Coastal Louisiana Program Assistant, for the National Wildlife Federation, educates us on NWF’s mission of the “Vanishing Paradise” program, and describes to us just how the marshlands have fallen victim to corporate oil dredging and its effects, and how the industrialization of the river has taken a toll on marshlands integrity and the support they provide to water-spawning species and other natural wildlife habitats.
Barges are used to deploy and collect booms, and as well to provide staging platforms for other equipment that is needed for an oil clean of this magnitude.
The USCG is present everywhere to monitor, observe and assist where they can to ensure an expedient cleanup, without forfeiting safety.
Despite the potential damage an oil spill of this size threatens, plus the constant stress, diligence and attention to thwarting this disaster that is required, the site of a cow cooling off in the river adds a sense of renewed faith in how Mother Nature takes care of itself.
Temporary residences have been set up for working crews. These container-type modules have been stacked on barges for sleeping quarters for the crews. Hard to tell what the amenities are, but crews know all too well what they are sacrificing in terms of the comforts of home to secure this situation.
Fuel tanks also stand ready to fuel the launches that take work crews out and back to the boats and surrounding beaches to complete a day’s work.
Absorbent booms sit ready to be deployed should a breach along a beach occur, or a break in a threatened string of marshland islands takes place.
Already deployed booms sit ready to guard against oil plumes that could make their way closer to the marshes. So far, the booms in and around Venice and Buras, Louisiana, have not been put to the test yet. Very little marshland burnout was noticed during this visit.
Workers from some of the beach crews take a break from the hot Louisiana sun. It’s hard work cleaning up beaches. Proper hydration is critical in keeping from getting dehydrated. Some crews work an hour on and an hour off.
Setting up booms properly is critical to being able to push back the oil should it come in. Anchoring of buoys that hold the booms have to be secured probably to the floor in the marshlands to prevent them from washing on shore.
Fast swamp boats are now seen all over the marshlands to ferry crewmen and equipment to needed areas.
One of the smaller oil rigs, closer to shore, looms over the water and is a reminder how man has perpetrated a tranquility that may not have wanted to be tamed. It makes one wonder of the magnitude of this entire oil industry and just how dependent we have all become in accepting these platforms of the deep.