Oil Reaches First Important Bird Area

Brown pelican. Courtesy of Bill Stripling.

Oil from the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the shores of the Chandeleur Islands, marking the first assault on a network of Important Bird Areas that line the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to south Florida.

“Rusty streaks of crude could be seen closing in on the Chandeleur Islands and small, dark patches of oily sheen lapped ashore,” reported the Telegraph earlier today. A fleet of 22 boats, comprising 10 official vessels and 12 shrimp trawlers, was dispatched to skim the surface of the slick near the islands, put down protective booms, and drop dispersant chemicals into the oil, according to the report.
“This is another sad milestone in a disaster unfolding in slow motion,” said Frank Gill, interim president of the National Audubon Society, in a recent press release. “This massive oil slick is churning around in the Gulf and emulsifying into a thick, deadly ‘mousse’ that will extinguish life and destroy habitats.”
Located 60 miles from New Orleans at Louisiana’s eastern boundary, the uninhabited Chandeleur Islands in the parishes of St. Bernard and Plaquemine are part of Breton National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s second oldest refuge and home to an estimated 34,000 birds. Designated as an IBA—that is, a site recognized by Audubon and Birdlife International as essential for the survival of one or more birds species—the Chandeleurs and greater Breton National Wildlife Refuge are a haven to an avian medley that includes waterfowl, wading birds, marsh birds, shorebirds, and neotropical species that touch down during their migrations.
Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, nests in this IBA, and its breeding season has only just begun. Removed last year from the endangered species list, the bird—there are more than 2,000 in Breton National Wildlife Refgure—is still vulnerable, and disruptions to its breeding cycle could have serious effects on the population, according to an Audubon press release.
Back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina dealt a blow to the Chandeleur Islands (Breton National Wildlife Refuge) IBA, reducing the land area by about 80 percent. What remains is susceptible to accelerated erosion—and now, it appears, to oil.

*This article was updated at 7:29pm, 5/5/10

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