National Geographic : 2010 Oct
• that was heavily oiled two weeks ago," Kulp said. He showed me pictures of dark reddish-brown oil gunked on the shore at Devils Point. "It was pretty badly hit." Kulp had recommended no radical cleaning. "We had them run some boom to suck oil from the water along the shoreline. I'm hoping the tidal action will slowly wash the oil out of the vegetation and into the boom." e material in the boom is hydrophobic (water repellent) and oleophilic (oil absorbent). So when oil touches it, the boom won't let it go. ree hours later an airboat dropped us o on Devils Point. We sloshed ashore at high tide. Nearly the entire peninsula was under six inches of water. "What I want to know is if the oil is moving into the interior, or if it's staying on the fringe," Kulp said. It took about ve minutes to make our way across. e news was mostly good. Some man- grove leaves had gone black, and some areas of glasswort were still lightly oiled. But the tidal and wave action had worked like a washing ma- chine agitator, li ing the oil o the plants and moving it onto the white boom, which was now black with oil. Back at SCAT headquarters that evening, di- vision leader Ed Owens brought his 45-member sta together for a half-hour debrie ng. Owens, a bigger-than-life British man with a rakish eye patch, came up with the SCAT concept while working on the Exxon Valdez response. Each SCAT team reported on what it had found. "Team two. Mark?" Kulp nutshelled it. "We went back to Devils Point, where we're seeing progressive ushing with the tides. If we keep changing out the dirty boom, I think the high tides will continue doing us some good." One of the other SCAT teams reported that the beach on East Grand Terre, a barrier island, was still full of pooled oil. " is is the poster child right now," the team leader said. "We need to get a cleanup team out there." Owens sighed. In this complex cleanup op- eration, the assignment of cleanup crews was beyond his purview. He could recommend, but he could not dispatch. at was the job of the operations division. "We'll go to ops tonight and tell them they've got to get on this now," Owens said, clearly frus- trated at the thought of yet another delay. As the meeting broke up, he turned to his deputy. "We're going to have to kick some ass on that Grand Terre situation." Whether that would re- sult in any action, nobody could say. Kulp stayed late lling out a report on Dev- ils Point. It might get led in the bureaucratic ether. Or somehow it might make a di erence in the recovery of Timbalier Bay. On his computer screen he called up a photo of the oil from his original visit to Devils Point. "It certainly looks a lot less scary than when I saw it two weeks ago," he said. "With what we saw today, I do feel a sense of hope." C from the marshes is one thing. Cleaning the wildlife that lives in the marshes is another thing entirely. BP had hired dozens of wildlife professionals to col- lect oiled birds and turtles, but they were o en overwhelmed by the workload. at led to frus- tration and sometimes improvisation. Every morning in early June the Plaquemines Parish coastal director, P. J. Hahn, met a shing guide named Dave Marino at 4:45 in the re nery town of Port Sulphur, and the two of them went oil scouting. Hahn needed to know where the oil was washing up. Marino, his business wrecked by oil, was happy to have the work. On the morning of June 5 Hahn said to Marino, "We better take a look at Queen Bess." A 97-acre clump of oyster grass and shell midden, Queen Bess Island is one of the fragile masterpieces of Barataria Bay. When Louisiana reintroduced the extirpated brown pelican in the late 1960s, Queen Bess became a primary nesting ground. In 1990 coastal-restoration advocates ringed the island with a rock barrier to keep it from sinking into the bay. Hundreds of brown pelicans, Forster's terns, and laughing gulls now ock there annually to nest. Hahn glassed the shore as we approached the island. "It's getting worse over here," he said. e federal government would not ride to the rescue. If Louisianans wanted the marshes protected, they would have to do it themselves.