Mass Fish Kill In Fourchon, Louisiana Provides Insight, But Presents More Questions Regarding The Gulf Oil Spill
Yesterday in Port Fourchon, Louisiana I came upon an amazing scene. Thousands of birds, mostly Gulls, were engaged in a feeding frenzy in a small saltwater bay. At first I couldn't tell what they were eating, but then discovered that they were mostly feeding on American Eels between 6-12 inches in length. It is not a common sight to see Laughing Gulls be able to pluck living fish from the water's surface with such ease and success, so I was a little perplexed. It afforded a great opportunity to observe a large portion of the Fourchon area avifauna, and get an idea as to the level of oiling of the birds present at the feast. Overall, the birds looked pretty good, and just a few out of the 600 plus Laughing Gulls were obviously oiled, and the same went for the Snowy Egrets and other birds present.
A Laughing Gull readjusts its grip on an Eel in mid-air
When I was driving away i noticed some creamy white things floating in the water, which, while wheeling down the highway looked mostly like frothy foam. I pulled over in the breakdown lane, and through the binoculars could see that they were actually the white bellies of thousands of dead fish floating everywhere, which started to explain the success of the Gulls. The fish were dying, and it was making it easier for the birds to catch them, but why were they dying?
This small, (1.2 by 1.6 miles) bay is blocked on all sides by road, and all water flow is through large culverts which connect to the outer marshes. I don't know the depth, but I'm presuming that with restricted flow that the die off is likely caused by low oxygen in the water from the extreme heat that the region has been experiencing over the past week. I pulled over on a side road, where some guys were fishing. Really, thousands of dead fish everywhere, and people were fishing and crabbing. To one guy's credit, he was fishing the outflow of this bay, and having very good luck with Red and Black Drum. The crabs in this bay look really nasty; dark and scabby, but the guys there were planning on eating them anyway. As an experienced commercial crabber, I never would have seen anything that looked close to as nasty as these things looked making it into the tank. The one guy fishing the outflow told me that he had been fishing there all of his life and "had never seen anything like this mass die off before."
All of the shorelines were covered with dead fish like this.
As I investigated further, and got closer looks, I noticed that a lot of these fish actually looked like they had a little oil on their bellies, and in the water, near many of them was a colorful oil sheen. Now, I know that some fish are oily, and you can actually see when Bluefish are eating mackerel from the slick it produces, but this oil was different, and it was coming from Mullet and Flounder alike,two species of fish that aren't known for their oil content. This morning, I put my waders on and walked around in the water to get some better photos of the situation, and in places noticed oil coming up where I had stepped.
I'm not saying that they died due to the oil, but I think it is impossible to disassociate this spill from any and all ecological systems in the Gulf region. As everything is interconnected, where do we draw the line, and how do we ensure that our agencies are recognizing the existence of a line? This bay is just 100 meters from the emergency operations center at the Port of Fourchon main office structure, where the Emergency Operations Center is stationed, and where all crews, including state and federal biologists work out of, yet, at noon yesterday I was the first person to notice this die off and report it. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries told me they would investigate the situation today. I sure hope they ask the right questions, and find the true answers. Two Dead Mullet, a Colorful Oil Sheen, and a Blue Crab Feasting on the Fish
Another question to ask is about the "dispersments". Since no one seems to care that our very own Coast Guard poisoned the Gulf with millions of gallons of the stuff, I've decided to use the Billy Nungesser version of the word, as it sounds a little less like disappearance, the strange new quality of Sweet Louisiana Crude brought to light by the Obama Administration and other media "sources". One of the main problems with dispersments is that they use large amounts of oxygen from the system when they break down. They have sprayed much of this stuff very close to shore here, and the common sight of foam on the water, and on the beach is taken as common knowledge proof of that, as the locals have never seen foam in their waters before. This demand for oxygen in an area that historically experiences dead zones due to low oxygen levels is massively irresponsible at best, and could be considered criminal take at worst. The statements that they have not used these chemicals near shore is absolutely false, I have personally come into contact with them as have many people here on Grand Isle.
In conclusion, a lot of fish are dead. A lot of birds are eating the dead and dying fish. A lot of oil is still in the water and saturating the sands and marshes. The media and BP are talking like everything is fine down here, and a visible lessening of the work force is apparent. Saturated boom still lines many of the beaches and marshes further contaminating substrates and wildlife. Large swaths of weathered oil still mat Grand Isle, Grand Terre Island, and likely all of the other barrier islands that were oiled, and it is unlikely that we'll ever get a satisfactory answer to what forces combined to kill these fish in Fourchon, Louisiana. Gosh it kind of sounds like I've lost faith in the system, but it feels more like it was ripped away from me by a mega corporation, and the Government and media that it bought.
Break Down of Species of Birds Present With at Least One Oiled Individual:
Most birds with oil were lightly oiled, and the oil looked old and weathered.
Species Total Number Number Oiled
Laughing Gull 600 3/250, (only 250 close enough to tell for sure)
Roseate Spoonbill 3 1
Snowy Egret 23 3
Great Egret 81 6
Reddish Egret 1 1
White Ibis 3 1