by Karen Nelson Reporter for The Sun Herald, my local newspaper.
The Gulf Restoration Network is worried the oil spill that could push ashore as early as this weekend is a “worst-case scenario” for the environment.
Biologists with USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab took samples Thursday so they will have something to compare as the spill moves closer.
The Audubon Society and the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies were lining up workers and volunteers willing to be trained to handle oil-related animal injuries.
The state DEQ and DMR were coordinating with contractors to place booms in sensitive areas.
And state agencies, as well as the Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network, planned fly-overs to document the conditions of the Mississippi Sound.
“This thing is as big as Jamaica and we have enough booms to really protect maybe one reserve,” said Aaron Viles with the Gulf Restoration Network. “This is darn-near close to a worst-case scenario.”
The magnitude of the problem for fish and wildlife depends on how much of the spill gets close to shore and how long it stays.
With millions of acres of wetlands to protect from Louisiana to Alabama, the task is daunting, oil specialists say.
“It couldn’t be at a worse time,” said Mozart Dedeaux, education director for the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. “All the shore birds and sea birds are breeding now, anything that nests in the marshes.
“Some have hatchlings,” he said. “Eating infected fish or no fish at all, the babies could starve.”
Oil-coated birds can suffer hypothermia, dehydration, drowning and starvation, and become easy prey.
Dedeaux said at the worst, the spill also could affect river life, “but hopefully the currents from the river will keep it out.
“It’s all speculation. We don’t know anything,” he said. “It is like a hurricane, but in a way it’s not. We can board our houses up and leave for a hurricane. We can’t block the entire coastline of Mississippi.”
On the state and federal list of sensitive areas to protect are the barrier islands, the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Pascagoula River area, Graveline and Davis bayous, the Biloxi Back Bay and Deer Island and the Bay of St. Louis and nearby marshes and bayous.
But there are many inlets and bayous in between, all of them nurseries for juvenile fish and shrimp, dependent on the marsh for feeding.
Read Hendon, an assistant director at the Research Lab, said wave action in the Gulf is churning the spill.