No Joke – Oil Still Contaminating Louisiana Coast

Yesterday, NWF and our coalition partners traveled out to Louisiana’s Barataria Bay to search for continued impacts from 2010’s Gulf oil disaster.

We didn’t have to look very hard.

Our first stop was East Grand Terre, a small barrier island where just two weeks ago, we discovered a BP work crew cleaning up a 25,000-pound tar mat, which was later confirmed through an oil identification process to be BP oil. The big tar mat may be gone, but all along the island, we found evidence of oil – tar mats, tar balls and oiled residue. The tar balls were hard, thick and difficult to break in one’s hands. The insides were rubbery and sticky, and they smelled like asphalt or plastic. These oily materials are not just on the shore’s surface – they’re also buried in the sand and sediment. Wave action and storm events continue to deposit them on barrier islands, beaches and marshes that provide habitat for animals like brown pelicans, American oystercatchers, crabs, sea turtles – resulting in a chronic “re-oiling” of these areas.

East Grand Terre Tar Ball
East Grand Terre Tar Ball. NWF photo by Kelly Wagner
“How much of BP’s oil is left out there in Barataria Bay? How much of this oil is all along the bottom of the Gulf that we simply cannot see? The oil will never all be found and cleaned-up,” said David Muth, NWF’s director of Gulf restoration upon seeing the tar balls along the island. “It’s time for BP to put its PR campaigns aside and take responsibility. To achieve justice for the Gulf, and its people, wildlife and habitats, we must hold BP fully accountable.”

Next, we traveled to Cat Island, which has practically disappeared in the five years since the oil spill began. Once a thriving rookery covered in mangroves and thousands of birds, Cat Island received heavy oil in 2010, which suffocated the vegetation and caused rapid erosion of the island. Yesterday, a lone American oystercatcher patrolled the island. The mangroves are gone.

The island’s size has drastically decreased. There is no plant life on the island – only the remnants of mangroves which are now dead, sticking up out of the gray sand like bones. Cat Island, formerly a lush habitat for wildlife, is a skeleton.

Oystercatcher on Cat Island
A lone oystercatcher on the skeletal Cat Island. NWF photo by Kelly Wagner
For more on the decline of the size of Cat Island, check out this satellite imagery. In an area like the Mississippi River Delta, where we are already losing a football field of precious wildlife habitat every hour, we simply cannot afford to speed up land loss. Yet studies show that heavily oiled areas eroded much more quickly.

Satellite Imagery of Cat Island before and after the oil spill
Satellite Imagery of Cat Island before and after the oil spill. Photos from Google Earth
Five years later, BP wants the public to believe the disaster is over. In reality, it may take decades before the effects of the oil spill are fully known. NWF’s latest report, Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, found scientific evidence of impacts to animals ranging from microorganisms to sperm whales.

To truly put the Gulf on the road to recovery, BP must accept responsibility for its reckless behavior. Five years later, the Gulf cannot wait any longer.

Take ActionTell BP to quit stalling, and accept responsibility for its actions by paying its Clean Water Act fines!    


Donate-ButtonWe’re still on the ground in Louisiana and across the Gulf working to make sure that BP is held accountable and that the Gulf is restored for dolphins and other wildlife.


For more on the wide-ranging ecosystem impacts from the spill, check out the new infographic from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.