Posted Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010
Gulf Oil Spill Healing Marsh
By Cain Burdeau and Jeffrey Collins
The Associated Press
BARATARIA BAY, La. -- Shoots of marsh grass and bushes of mangrove trees are already starting to grow back in the bay where just months ago photographers shot startling images of dying pelicans coated in oil from the Gulf spill.
More than a dozen scientists interviewed by The Associated Press say the marshes here and across the Louisiana coast are healing themselves, giving them hope that delicate wetlands might weather the worst offshore spill in U.S. history better than they had feared.
Some marshland could be lost, but the amount appears to be small compared with what the coast loses every year through human development.
On Tuesday, a cruise through the Barataria Bay marsh revealed thin shoots growing up out of the oiled mass of grass. Elsewhere, there were still gray, dead mangrove shrubs, likely killed by the oil, but even there green growth was coming up.
"These are areas that were black with oil," said Matt Boasso, a temporary worker with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
As crude from a blown-out BP well oozed toward the marshes after an April oil rig explosion, experts had feared that it would kill roots in marsh grass, smother the mangroves and dissolve wetlands that plant life was holding together.
Cleanup efforts were focused on preventing that from happening by burning and skimming the oil, blocking it with booms and sand berms, and breaking it up with chemical dispersants.
Scientists have reported regrowth of grasses, black mangrove trees and roseau cane, a lush, tall cane found in the brackish waters around the mouth of the Mississippi River.
"The marsh is coming back; sprigs are popping up," said Alexander Kolker, a marsh expert and coastal geologist in Cocodrie, La., with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
He's working with a National Science Foundation team looking at the effect of the BP oil spill on Louisiana's vast but severely stressed marshland -- also known as the Cajun prairie -- where trappers, shrimpers and alligator hunters have made their living for generations. Louisiana, the state worst hit by the oil spill, is home to the vast majority of the northern Gulf's marshland.
Coastal Louisiana is covered in a thick mat of salt marshes that thrive on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
The marshes provide life support for fauna and flora in the Gulf, said Bob Thomas, a zoologist at Loyola University, and up to 90 percent of commercial fisheries depend on them for some stage of fish development.
Even before the spill, south Louisiana had been losing about 25 square miles of marshland a year, a total of about 2,300 square miles since the 1930s, mostly because of levee construction, logging, shipping and oil drilling.
Only about 5,300 square miles of marsh and swamp remain in the state.
Associated Press calculations based on how much coastline government scientists say was affected by the oil spill indicate that at most 3.4 square miles of Louisiana marshland was sullied with oil, an area stretched out over hundreds of miles of coastline. At least some of those areas appear to be rebounding.
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/08/11/2399003/oil-tainted-louisiana-marshes.html#ixzz0xIewm9Mw