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Troubled Waters in Louisiana

HSUS experts survey Louisiana's expansive coastline

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Marshes along the Gulf Coast extend the shoreline to the equivalent of 7,000 miles. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Part of the team departs for Duaphin Island and Orange Beach, Alabama. The HSUS

  • Dr. Barry Kellogg gets the latest on the team's assessment plans. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Plotting the course. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Laura Bevan

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On Friday, our assessment team surveyed Louisiana’s marshes and coastline from the sky. Viewing the massive Mississippi River delta plains from 1,300 feet offered a sobering perspective on the challenges of keeping it safe from the encroaching oil. While our helicopter was not allowed in the restricted air space over the heavily oiled areas, visible oil sheens signaled the dangers ahead. 

“The task at hand is enormous—the magnitude of this event is beyond what we have experienced before in oil spills,” said Lynn Miller, a conservation biologist who specializes in the impacts of oiling on wildlife. “Today’s flight over the marshlands, waterways and landscape reinforced the vastness of the shoreline. How do we prevent oiling in such an expansive and porous landscape? Booming is of use in limited ways. And there is not enough booming to protect the coastline.”

HSUS scientist Sharon Young, an expert on marine mammal conservation in the Gulf of Mexico, reported seeing booms already in place in a number of areas. “A visitor in the refueling stop indicated that he owned a fishing camp near Belle Isle, La.; he had his own booms that he put in and took out as needed. Some of the booms we observed appeared to have been erected around private dwellings and/or breakwater areas, and it seems that at least some portion of them may be privately owned. If so, they may be of no use in protecting sensitive wildlife habitat.”

Team members shared concerns for the integrity of the marsh system should a hurricane push oil further inland. The channels cut into the marshes appear to offer direct pathways for oil to enter the largely unprotected areas.

On Saturday, the assessment team will tour by boat parts of the marsh coastline heavily impacted by oil.

Laura Bevan is director of the eastern regional office for The HSUS. She has been with the organization since 1987 and is known for her extensive experience in working natural disasters, starting with Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She has responded and helped direct animal relief efforts in numerous hurricanes, wildfires and floods.

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