National Geographic : 2010 Oct
• Thousands of National Guard troops, Coast Guard reservists, and specialized contractors had overrun small shing towns along the coast, but in all the hullabaloo few seemed able or will- ing to actually skim much oil from the water. Federal o cials seemed more concerned with enforcing bureaucratic regulations than with cleaning up the spill. As far as Hahn was con- cerned, it was time to put the damn bird in the damn boat. "I'm taking that bird in myself," he said. "You're going to get us in trouble, P. J.," said Marino. e rule on the water was: Don't touch the birds. "I can't leave her here. She's gonna die." Hahn raised the bird by its wing (photo, page 32)---not the best way to do it, but he had to take a chance---held its beak, and wrapped its body in a plastic bag to calm it. We carried it to Marino's boat; the sopping, sun-heated bird felt as warm as fresh bread. Twenty minutes later it was on its way to the bird rehabilitation center south of Empire. It went like that all that day and the next. In Bay Jimmy heavy oil browned the marsh grass. On an unnamed island in Bay Ronquille hermit crabs scuttled through oil and died. In Bay Long the oil pooled in oating ra s so thick that two menhaden minnows leaped out of the water, got stuck in the thick crude, and died. Hahn dialed his o ce. "Donna?" he said. "I'm in Bay Long, and it's heavy here. We just passed some skimmer boats over by Cat Is- land. We need to move them over here. North 29 degrees, 19.92 minutes. West 89 degrees, 49.45 minutes. You get that?" Donna Frederick, the parish's emergency opera- tions center supervisor, repeated the coordinates. "Great. We gotta move those skimmers. ere's a whole bunch about to hit the marsh here." Eventually Hahn and Marino turned back to port. ey were exhausted. Marino's boat bore the brown smudges of oiled-water duty. As they entered Myrtle Grove Marina, two Coast Guard o cers in an airboat pulled alongside. "Y'all been out playing in the oil?" one of the o cers asked. He glared at Marino and Hahn Dozens of brown pelicans stood at the shore- line, mustered like sailors at the rails, preening oil from their feathers. Some held their oil-heavy wings outstretched trying to dry them in the breeze. Others batted their wings in the water, trying to wash the feathers clean. Marino spotted something caught near shore. Hahn waded in. It was a brown pelican, trapped in a tide pool of oil six inches deep. e bird was so oil soaked it could barely move. Oil dripped from its bill. e blink of its eye was the only sign that it was alive. "I'll call it in," said Marino. An hour and a half passed. en two. Heat came into the morning. Help did not arrive. Oiled birds don't commonly die from poison- ing. ey usually freeze or fry. Oil destroys the insulative properties of their feathers, and they die of hypothermia when the nighttime tem- perature drops or of hyperthermia when the daytime sun overheats their bodies. is bird was being slowly cooked. Hahn began to boil. For weeks o cials like Hahn and his boss, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser--- the Fiorello La Guardia of the Louisiana coast--- had complained bitterly about the chaotic op- eration run by BP and the federal government. "Got no shrimp, and nobody to buy 'em if we did," said one vendor. "Everybody's scared to eat it." The special two-sided supplement that comes with this issue explores the rich Layers of Life in the Gulf of Mexico and maps the Geography of Offshore Oil. Fighting Back---Stories From the Spill premieres September 28 at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.