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In Harm's Way

This article is the second in a series of four. Watch the coming weeks for more installments.


Enjoying the fishing and crabbing in open waters in the Gulf of Mexico beckons thousands to the tiny community of Grand Isle, LA, each year. The residents number around 1,500 but the summer visitors swell the annual numbers to over 12,000. Grand Isle is host to tarpon rodeos including the Grand Isle International Tarpon Rodeo (held in July each year) and many other fishing competitions. Several fishing events scheduled for May have been canceled.

The official website for Grand Isle now has a link for oil spill information. In a community where tourism, seafood, and oilfield related professions have enjoyed bountiful resources, commercial marine vessels are now being recruited to help contain the oil spill and, just maybe, prevent the slick from coming ashore. To aid the oil spill cleanup, BP held several training classes on how to deploy booms and tow for an in situ burn for commercial fishing vessels. The training at the Grand Isle Community Center was provided to over 300 people.

Notification to shrimpers that inshore, Zone 2 shrimp season would close May 4, 2010, at 6:00pm is posted on the Grand Isle website. The Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Robert Barham, opened the season last Wednesday to let trawlers harvest marketable white shrimp before any possible effects of the oil spill showed up in state waters. 

Along with the state advisories, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Fisheries Service also provides some of the science behind Emergency Rule Closure Boundaries to prohibit fishing in the deepwater horizon oil spill area. The closure is scheduled to end on May 12, 2010 unless conditions allow NOAA Fisheries Service to terminate it sooner.

NOAA’s roles include predicting the oil spill’s trajectory and the path of the layers of oil floating on the surface; and, providing regular weather forecasts to facilitate operations planning and response efforts. Additionally, NOAA marine mammal spotters are participating in surveillance flights flown to assess the species and populations that may come in contact with the spill as well as using experimental satellite data to survey the extent of the spill-related pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is providing updates on monitored ambient air in the gulf region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFW) has produced an Oil Spill fact sheet and set up a wildlife rehabilitation center in Venice, Louisiana with another center planned near Mobile, AL. More than 34, 000 individual birds (approximately 2,000 pairs of brown pelicans, 5,000 pairs of Royal Terns; 5,000 pairs of Caspian Terns; and 5,000 pairs of gulls and other shore birds are threatened.

My colleague, Ed Overton, at Louisiana State University stated that his worries grew after a university laboratory analyzed a sample of the oil. “It’s not terribly toxic, but it does appear to be terribly sticky,” he said, which meant it could coat blades of grass and kill them. Oil also damages birds when it coats their feathers and destroys the natural chemistry that keeps them buoyant, warm and able to fly. Birds ingest the oil and poison themselves when they attempt to “preen” their feathers to remove the gooey particles. 

Residents of Grand Isle have control over their fate and are prepared to implement contingency plans for hurricanes. They do not have control over oil spills and it is impossible to implement a contingency plan for a total destruction of tourism and fisheries. We need to put this country’s coastlines and estuaries on the endangered species list.

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