Oil well capped, but future uncertain for Gulf native and visiting birds
David J. Ringer
National Audubon Society
As August draws to a close, Gulf Coast resident birds are completing their breeding seasons and dispersing away from nest colonies on Louisiana’s many islands. By all appearances, thousands of healthy Brown Pelican chicks and young of other species are growing up and striking out on their own. But what future do they face, and what future awaits the millions of migratory and wintering birds now heading for the Gulf of Mexico?
Since the provisional capping of the Macondo well on July 15, images of oil-soaked birds have begun fading from newspapers and TV screens. In fact, it appears that the risk of direct contact with oil is decreasing for birds as escaped oil continues breaking down in the environment.
Oil may appear to be gone, but it still exists
However, oil persists on islands, in marshes, and on beaches in many parts of the state. Last week, Audubon’s Melanie Driscoll observed oil-saturated sand – often buried under a layer of clean sand – on islands including Grand Isle and Raccoon Island. Much of this oil will probably remain untouched by cleanup crews, so it will continue to affect birds and other wildlife. Birds may come into contact with the oil if it is exposed by tides or as they probe with their bills into oily sand. The presence of buried oil will affect sand-dwelling invertebrates, on which birds and other organisms feed. On the other hand, the removal of millions of cubic feet of oiled sand also would be catastrophic for these populations.
Additionally, emerging studies indicate that much oil remains in the water. Effects on the marine environment remain unknown. Birds may still come into contact with oily waters, and populations of marine organisms from algae to fish will continue to be affected in unknown ways for an unknown period of time. If the effects are serious enough, they could extend up the food chain to birds and other organisms.
Full bird impacts are still unknown, ongoing monitoring is essential
As the breeding season winds down, state and federal biologists are able to access nesting islands and collect the birds that did not survive, many of them victims of the oil disaster. The number of birds killed outright remains unknown, but an estimate will be made eventually as part of the U.S. Department of Interior's Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Ongoing monitoring will be essential to determine the fate of those birds that survived this summer, but they face an uncertain future.
Photo: Juvenile Brown Pelican balances on boom encircling a breeding colony in Barataria Bay.
Credit: Melanie Driscoll of National Audubon Society
Louisiana Gulf Response volunteers restore coast in many ways
Environmental Defense Fund
In the wake of the Gulf BP oil disaster, four local and national nonprofits have joined to coordinate thousands of volunteers to restore Louisiana’s coast. LA Gulf Response includes the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, National Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy.
Current volunteer projects include:
- Pre-Landfall Clean-Ups: Picking up trash and other unnatural debris from the shores and tidal zones, before they can become oiled and hazardous.
- Wetland Restoration Plantings: Planting native vegetation in vulnerable project areas, to help rebuild wildlife habitat and reduce erosion along the coast.
- Shoreline Protection and Gulf Saver Bags: Deploying Gulf Saver Bags (biodegradable bags filled with humus and vegetation), to help rebuild Louisiana’s fragile coast.
- Coastal Forest Restoration: Planting cypress trees and other coastal forest species, to rebuild the environment and protect communities from storm surge and hurricanes.
- Project Preparation: Helping with numerous behind-the-scenes tasks, such as lunch preparation for volunteers, office support, and communications work.
- Expertise and Resources: Lending natural resource and other needed expertise, providing resources such as boats, life vests, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), trailers, and housing for volunteers.
Previous projects include Cameron Shoreline beach clean-ups, marsh replantings in Bayou L’Ours and North Bayou Perot, and beach clean-up at Grand Isle State Park.
Those interested in volunteering can sign up online for more information or to make a donation to the LA Gulf Response effort.
National Wildlife Federation partners with Ducks Unlimited to hold Sportsman Media Week
National Wildlife Federation
The National Wildlife Federation partnered with Ducks Unlimited (DU) to host a Sportsman Media Week in Venice, La. on July 27-28 to engage outdoor-focused media outlets from around the country to visit the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil disaster and learn about the significant coastal restoration challenges facing Louisiana. Sportsmen from across the nation have an interest in restoring coastal Louisiana, whose quickly disappearing marshes are home to a myriad of native and migratory waterfowl.
The event hosted participants from magazines Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, North American Hunter, North American Fisherman, Wildfowl, as well as National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting Service, and several other local media outlets, which together represent a combined audience of more than five million.
The event featured a variety of speakers and field trips. Pulitzer Prize winning writer and New Orleans Times-Picayune Outdoors Columnist Bob Marshall, DU's lead biologist Dale Humburg, Venice Charter Captains Association President Mike Frennette, and others addressed the group on the impacts of the oil spill and the need for Gulf Coast restoration.
Louisiana Charter Captain Ryan Lambert of Cajun Adventures, who testified about the need for coastal restoration in front of the House Natural Resources Committee in June, led attendees on a tour of healthy marsh, eroding marsh, and marsh that had vanished. Attendees also took an oil-focused tour, exploring the marsh on boats to look for damage caused by oil, clean up operations, and tar balls.
The event concluded with a Sportsman Rally at the Venice, La. Marina. More than 75 people attended, including Parish President Bill Nunguesser, who spoke to the crowd about the immediate impacts from the oil spill and the need for large scale Gulf Coast restoration.
See a video produced during the event.
Meet Cindy Brown
Cindy Brown is director of the Gulf of Mexico Program at The Nature Conservancy (TNC). As leader of this recently-launched initiative, Cindy works with Conservancy chapters and other partners from across the Gulf of Mexico, advocating for gulf-wide ecosystem restoration.
Prior to taking on this new role, Cindy oversaw all Mississippi River and Delta conservation activities for TNC’s Louisiana Chapter, including their work in the Atchafalaya River Basin. Cindy has spent the past 15 years working for TNC, all in various roles related to large-scale ecosystem restoration. Her past work includes conservation planning, habitat restoration in riparian and coastal ecosystems, and land protection.
Cindy also assists with the Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership, working on developing river-wide conservation strategies for the entire Mississippi River. Her prior work as director of the Mississippi River and Delta program has provided Cindy with a unique perspective on and appreciation of this complex system.
Before joining TNC, Cindy worked as an environmental planner with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, a teacher in the Louisiana public school system, as well as an employee with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. She holds a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University.