NWF Confirms More Oil Washing Ashore in Grand Isle

“The oil is actually becoming a part of the whole system. It’s in the sand, it’s in the dunes, it’s beneath the water out there and it is being picked up by all the creatures that depend on the ecosystem here.”

01-10-2011 // Craig Guillot
Tarballs from Grand Isle, LA, Jan. 2011

Nine months after the start of the Gulf oil disaster, the National Wildlife Federation confirmed reports that more oil and tar balls are still washing ashore in Grand Isle, La.

As one of the hardest-hit areas during the summer of 2010, oil caused the deaths of countless fish and birds and the closure of beaches and fishing devastated the town’s tourism industry.

The continual appearance of tar balls offers visual evidence that the Gulf oil disaster is far from over.

David Muth, Louisiana state director for NWF, and Ben Weber, NWF Coastal Louisiana team manager, confirmed the presence of new tar balls on the beach on January 8.

Access to Elmer’s Island was denied without a BP escort and parts of the beach toward the state park remained closed due to cleanup operations. Walking a small area of beach in the middle of the island, they found small fresh tar balls and patties within minutes of arriving.

"It doesn’t take much to just walk up the beach and, in the rake line from the previous night, find little oil patties,” said Muth. “What we’ve heard is that anytime you get a little weather out here – a thunderstorm, a strong south wind, a frontal passage – pieces of the mat break off.”

Tarball exam on Grand Isle, LA, Jan. 2011

The Oil “Mat” (That Lies Beneath)

The “mat” Muth refers to is a large chunk of oil material residue that has settled along the bottom of shallow waters along some coastal areas. When a storm, high waves, or current changes, hit, pieces break off and come ashore. Mixing in the water, they hit the beaches, coastal marshes and spread throughout the entire system.

Muth says he’s especially concerned that the oil could potentially cause problems in the food chain for years to come.

“It’s actually becoming a part of the whole system. It’s in the sand, it’s in the dunes, it’s beneath the water out there and it is being picked up by all the creatures that depend on the ecosystem here,” Muth said.

Beaches in Grand Isle were closed when oil began washing ashore in late-May. While they eventually started to reopen sections of beach in August, some areas, including the beach at the state park and at Elmer’s Island, remain closed.

Elmers Island Beach Closed

According to Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams statistics, as of late-December, 113 miles of Louisiana coastline were still under active cleanup, with another 55 miles waiting approval to start the process.

While Muth acknowledges the need for beach cleanup in an area like Grand Isle that depends on tourism, he said just like marsh cleanup, beach cleanup is not without cost. With each piece of machinery that runs down the beach, with each part of the sand that is dug up and sifted, countless crabs and clams, an important food source for migratory birds, are killed.

"There isn’t any perfect solution and there’s a cost for cleaning up, but some of this material is going to be around for decades,” Muth said. “Long after the cleanup is over, everything in this ecosystem is going to have to go on dealing with this residue.”

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