The Long Shadow of the BP Oil Spill Keeps Killing Baby Birds
In Louisiana, experts say barrier islands are vanishing “like sugar in coffee.” That’s bad news for the waterfowl whose newly hatched chicks are being washed away.
Two years after the BP oil spill, Louisiana is still grappling with its aftermath. I saw this firsthand during a recent visit to Cat Island, a barrier island in Plaquemeins Parrish. The oil spill killed the much of the vegetation that serves as a nesting ground for pelicans and other migrating waterfowl.
Cat Island’s mangrove forests used to be impenetrably dense. You can walk through them with little effort now. Most of the island is underwater. Tree roots used to prevent waves from sweeping away the sand that holds the sediment in place, but with the death of many trees and marsh grasses, there’s little habitat left for the nesting birds.
According to P.J. Hahn, coastal zone manager for Plaquemines Parish, Cat Island is disappearing like sugar in coffee. The island rookery serves as a nesting ground to seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets, but it is primarily populated by brown pelicans, Louisiana’s state bird. The bird was only recently taken off the endangered species list; now, tragically, its numbers will again dwindle. Hahn estimates that the island has shrunk from four acres to one since the 2010 oil spill.
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