The Calm Before the Storm
I arrived on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday night, day 26 of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. In the morning I went first to Grand Isle, Louisiana, 2.5 hours southwest of New Orleans. Grand Isle is a sand spit barrier island on the west side of the Mississippi River delta. As of now, no oil has been seen on the shores of Grand Isle, but crews have set up booms in preparation to catch the oil should it come ashore.
Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers were feeding on the beach, and Least Terns dove for fish just offshore. Flotillas of Pelicans were foraging as if there was nothing amiss. In fact, it seems like business as usual down here for all of the residents, including a pod of 6 Bottlenose Dolphins with young that were foraging just inside the oil booms. I spoke to several fisherman on the Pier at Grand Isle State Park, and they were hopeful that the currents from the Mississippi River, coupled with the westerly flow of the offshore current would combine to keep the oil plumes from hitting land here. Time will tell.
Many shrimp boats were still plying the Gulf, and I stopped in at a packing plant and spoke with the Captain of "Sweet Bucket", Toby Bruce. He was very nervous about what is to come and was worried that he wouldn't be able to fish anymore. He added," the spill is there. What's done is done, let's not point fingers anymore. We've got to fix it now, whatever it takes. We're willing to help ourselves, you know, Commercial Fishermen. Basically, that's what we're hoping on, is that they can put us to work, and we get this thing cleaned up."
Crews were placing booms across the opening of the mouth of Caminada Bay as I left. When the tide is coming in, water rushes through this channel, and if the oil comes in, this will be how it gets into the estuary. The intertidal estuaries in southern Louisiana are some of the most productive and important habitats for birds, both resident and migratory.
I then went to Port Fourchon, just west of Grand Isle. Much of the staging for the spill response is happening out of this town, and there was a constant flow of helicopters, coming and going to the location of the spill. Port Fourchon is also one of the places that oil has actually made it to shore. The National Guard were there, helping to clean up, and the local Police were keeping everyone out. I was not able to see the beach. There is a frenetic energy around, as if there's a hurricane just offshore
It is a lucky thing that peak shorebird migration has passed, but there are still many migrant shorebirds in the area, as well as the species that nest here. For their sake, I hope that the fishermen are right, and the plumes stay away from this vitally important area.