Empty nets in Louisiana three years after the spill – ‘Looks like somebody poured motor oil all over the marsh there’Posted by Jim at Saturday, April 27, 2013
By Matt Smith
27 April 2013
Yscloskey, Louisiana (CNN) – On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.
More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.
At least he's got some company. There's not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he's alone. The catch that's coming in is light, particularly for crabs.
"Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that," said Stander, 26.
Out on the water, the chains clatter along the railing of George Barisich's boat as he and his deckhand haul dredges full of oysters onto the deck. As they sort them, they're looking for signs of "spat": the young oysters that latch onto reefs and grow into marketable shellfish.
There's the occasional spat here; there are also a few dead oysters, which make a hollow sound when tapped with the blunt end of a hatchet.
About two-thirds of U.S. oysters come from the Gulf Coast, the source of about 40% of America's seafood catch. But in the three years since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank about 80 miles south of here, fishermen say many of the oyster reefs are still barren, and some other commercial species are harder to find.
"My fellow fishermen who fish crab and who fish fish, they're feeling the same thing," Barisich said. "You get a spike in production every now and then, but overall, it's off. Everybody's down. Everywhere there was dispersed oil and heavily oiled, the production is down."
The April 20, 2010, explosion sent 11 men to a watery grave off Louisiana and uncorked an undersea gusher nearly a mile beneath the surface that took three months to cap. […]
Across the Mississippi from Pointe a la Hache, beyond the West Bank levees, lie some of the waterways that saw the heaviest oiling: Barataria Bay and its smaller inlets, Bay Jimmy and Bay Batiste.
Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui tracks the numbers of ants, wasps, spiders and other bugs at 40 sites in the surrounding marshes, 18 of which had seen some degree of oiling.
She is part of a small army of researchers who have been trying to figure out what effect the spill will have on the environment of the Gulf Coast. Since 2010, she's recorded a sharp decline in several species of insects -- particularly spiders, ants, wasps and grasshoppers, which sit roughly in the middle of the food web.
They're top predators among insects but food for birds and fish.
Hooper-Bui said she expected their numbers to bounce back the following year: "Instead, what we saw was worse."
The reason, she suspects, is that the oil that sank into the bottom of the marsh after the spill hasn't broken down at the same rate as the crude that floated to the surface.
Instead, it's in the sediments, still giving off fumes that are killing the insects.
Some napthalenes -- crude oil components most commonly known for their use in mothballs -- appear to have increased since the spill, she said.
"They're volatile, and they're toxic," Hooper-Bui said. "And they're not just toxic to insects. They're toxic to fish. They're toxic to birds. They cause eggshell thinning in birds. We think this is evidence of an emerging problem."
Hooper-Bui said crickets exposed to the contaminated muck in laboratories die, and when temperatures were increased to those comparable to a summer day, "the crickets die faster."
By August 2011, the number of grasshoppers had fallen by 70% to 80% in areas that got oiled.
"By 2012, we were unable to find any colonies of ants in the oiled areas," she said.
Then on August 29, 2012, Hurricane Isaac hit southeastern Louisiana. The slow-moving storm sat over Barataria Bay for more than 60 hours as it crawled onto land.
When Hooper-Bui went back to the marshes after the storm, she had a surprise waiting for her.
"We discovered in Bay Batiste large amounts of what looked like somebody had poured motor oil all over the marsh there," she said. "About three-quarters of the perimeter of northern Bay Batiste was covered in this oil." [more]