Day 34, Barataria Bay Oiled Ten Miles Inland, All the Way to Bayou Lefourche in Leeville
I spent most of the day in New Orleans today running errands and returned to Grand Isle this evening. I guess finally this is a real news story now that Grand Isle has its own "thank you Katie Couric" sign. Approaching the long bridge that connects the mainland and the barrier islands I could see a thin stripe of oil sheen running right up the Bayou Lefourche river. As I gained elevation on the bridge I could see streams of oil in every direction clearly demarcating the flow of the various currents. It was like looking at a CT scan of Barataria Bay after injecting barium. Though there was a decent breeze from the southwest rings of oil sheen encircled nearly every small island that I could see.
I met for dinner with a friend of mine, Richard Shephard who has been making flights over the affected areas in his para-glider. Today he flew Elmer's Island, which is where the main show of force is happening. The National Guard has been working there since the oil showed up on Sunday, May 16th. Their efforts have been able to hold off some oil from entering much of the estuary, but there has been no attempt made at reclaiming the oil that is building up on the Gulf side of the barriers. Richard has a series of photos from throughout the week showing the progress of work on that island as well as the lack of response to the large masses of oil which have built up.
When we first saw all of the Hermit Crabs die on the beach, after first contact with the oil, I became very nervous that the invertebrates were being affected very harshly. If such a short exposure to this oil could wreak such havoc on them, what could it be doing to the crustaceans, mollusks, and marine worms that migrating and resident shorebirds depend on? I had a phone interview with Dr. Gustav Paulay, Curator of Marine Invertebrates at the University of Florida at Gainesville to see if he could elucidate the situation. Since he was not here, and no testing had been done, he could not speak to specifics regarding the mass die off of Hermit Crabs, but he did explain that this oil likely contains compounds which act on the lipid membranes to break them down. From looking at the photograph, and hearing that many of the animals exited their shells, he hypothesized that the nature of this thick gooey oil would be clogging the crab's cilia, inhibiting respiratory function. Leaving their shells could perhaps have been a last gasp for more gas exchange.
This information, coupled with our discovery of so many dead bottom dwelling fish yesterday, has me really scared that this nasty oil/dispersant mixture is completely laying waste to whole ecosystems that lay hidden beneath the surface. That may mean that the real damage to the birds could occur this fall when the migrants arrive with the purpose of bulking up before the big jump off over the Gulf to warmer climes. Not that real damage isn't being done right now. Oil soaked dead fish and a continuous blanket still cover Grand Terre Island, and oil still sloshes all around Grand Isle and Elmer's Island while clean up crews sleep. I find it interesting that oil platforms never stop pumping. It's a constant flow of workers, even on Christmas, yet the worst environmental catastrophe that this country and possibly the world has ever seen is being treated as a nine to five job. I'm not saying that the people here aren't working hard, I'm just saying that they're all asleep, or in the bar, and no swing shift is backing them up. The effort is not equal to the issue at hand.
I have yet to get an update on the status of the bird rescue crew. I hope that the mucky mucks were able to hammer out a deal so that they could get back to the task at hand, and that the scope of work was re-defined to include more bodies on the scene here.
Meanwhile, CEO of BP, Tony Hayward tells Sky News, "I think this will be seen as a text book example of how to do an emergency response." Save us Katie!