Global environmental challenges
The wrong odor for a rich ecosystem
It has an odd odor, oil mixed with dispersant. It’s reminiscent of the inside of an old mechanic shop or boat house, and out of place in the open water of Southern Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the state’s fragile marshland.
One one point during a tour of the bay to see damage from the BP Plc oil spill, Capt. Sal Gagliano stopped his boat in a spot where reddish brown specs of the oil and dispersant mixture accumulated on the surface. It is slightly gooey to the touch.
The pollutants are why he was ferrying conservationists and reporters around and not taking customers out to fertile fishing spots. In other years this would be his busy season.
With the disaster in its eighth week, the fight against the oil will go on for months, if not years to come. The effects here, miles from the spill zone in the Gulf, are already evident.
In marshy areas, vegetation is blackened from oil, and looks burntjust above the water level even though booms have been laid to keep the crude out. On a late afternoon tour of the region hosted by the National Wildlife Federation, there were no birds in one swamp area. It was eerily quiet . This was seven miles from the marina.
The booms also surrounded small islands in Barataria Bay, ones that teemed with brown pelicans, spoonbills and egrets. Many showed obvious signs of oil contamination.
“This is a perfect example of how we are part of the ecosystem,” NWF naturalist David Mizejewski said, looking at Gagliano, who has fished here since he was a child.
”The oil’s impacting (the birds’) ability to get their food. It’s the same thing for you. The fish are just as important to you as they are to those pelicans. I don’t think you could get a clearer example of how important healthy ecosystems are to our economy, to peoples’ livelihoods.” — Jeffrey Jones
Photo – Three oil-coated white ibis sit in marsh grass on a small island in Bay Barataria near Grand Isle, Louisiana June 13, 2010. Sean Gardner/REUTERS