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Oil Casts Ugly ‘Shadow'

BP spill still exacting toll on vital Louisiana marsh land

Oil Casts Ugly ‘Shadow'
Bay Jimmy was one of the more impacted zones in the Louisiana Delta. (U.S. Coast Guard /Petty Officer 3rd Class Zac Crawford photo)

BARATARIA BAY, La. —  For P.J. Hahn, the white PVC poles poking up from Bay Jimmy are a stark reminder of just how quickly the Louisiana marsh is receding since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Bay Jimmy and its surrounding marsh grasses were at center stage during the media coverage of the oil spill. This is one of the hardest hit areas, where miles of booms were placed in hopes of holding back the massive clouds of oil being washed into the Louisiana marsh.

See images from Bay Jimmy

Photos at the time showed the marsh's expanse of green grass, its edge highlighted by a thin band of brown, scorched and dying grass. Today, that brown edge is gone, and boats can pull up to the edge of the green marsh with no oil in sight.

“It’s deceiving when you look at the marsh right now,’’ said Tommy Sanders, fishing show host and avid angler, “until you start to see all those white PVC poles sticking everywhere, and realize that was the edge of the marsh not too long ago.”

Some of the poles are standing in shallow water 200 yards away from any greenery, indicating at one time the edge of marsh grasses.

“That was all marsh land out there,” said P.J. Hahn, director of the Plauquemines Parish Coastal Zone Management Department, as he stood on the edge of the marsh. “It gives you a very good idea how much land-loss we’ve had since that time.

“And it’s still happening right now. Right in front of us, just about two or three feet down below the water, is a platform of oil. That oil sits on top of the marsh and kills it. It’s what they call ‘shadow.’ If you put a board in your yard and pick it up a week later, it has killed everything that was growing underneath it. That’s what the oil is doing, thickening up and shadowing the marsh.

"And then the marsh breaks apart. It’s a cycle that just keeps going over and over, repeating itself to the point where we’ve lost thousands of acres out here.”

While the poles show the rapid degradation, they are also there as markers that could offer at least some hope for the future, if not a cure, for slowing the mechanism of decline.

“All of these poles are set up by various companies that are testing materials that have been approved through the EPA and DEQ, working with Wildlife and Fisheries here locally, to see about trying to remediate certain areas,’’ Hahn said. “During and after the oil spill, the remediation efforts to get the oil out of here were stopped because it was tearing up the marsh. They felt it was more damaging to dig this area up to get the oil out than just leave it here and set up testing sights. We’re right now standing in a testing sight. Once they discover which ones work the best, those will obviously be the ones that companies will be using.”

The tide of decline, though, won’t reverse. And the impacts may last forever.

“This area is all closed to fishermen, so that should tell you something,’’ Hahn said. “No fishing, no shrimping, no oysters. This area is still closed two years after the oil spill. 

“Our slogan down here was, ‘You can go anywhere and fish, but you come to Plaquemines Parish to catch fish.’ That’s true today. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with what’s taking place every day with this oil.”

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