National Geographic : 2010 Oct
• ngerlike breathing tubes that provide oxygen to the tree's under water roots. "Even a light sheen can clog those tubes," St. Pé said as we scrutinized a number of empty pelican nests in the mangroves on Cat Island. eir oiled resi- dents had been caught and taken to the rehab center the previous day. As we dri ed along the shore of Cat Island, gobs of oil oated by, fraying at the edges in the 97-degree heat. "It's degrading pretty quickly," said St. Pé. " e hot Louisiana sun can induce a lot of photooxidation and evaporation," he said. "And oil-consuming bacteria will multiply quickly now, because there's lots of food." For the marshes of the Barataria-Terrebonne estuary, the damage done by the oil spill didn't compare with the damage done by decades of canal cutting and sediment starvation, St. Pé said. " e ecological e ects of this will gradu- ally subside. But the socioeconomic impacts will be devastating. No oysters, at least in the near future. No crabbing. No shing. No seafood to restaurants. Nobody buying ice or bait or ma- rine supplies. Lost paychecks with the o shore- drilling moratorium. ose impacts will stay for a long time." O in early June I drove down to the Grand Isle shore and watched coin-size gobs of oil wash up in the surf. e beach at Grand Isle has become famous for visits from President Barack Obama and clean- up crews scooping oil out of sand. But on this night it was deserted. e only sound was a light whoosh from the waves. en I spotted two birds ying low from the east along the tide line. It took me a moment to identify them. Oystercatchers? No. By their motion they revealed themselves. They were black skimmers, which catch small sh by dip- ping their lower bills into the top three inches of water as they y. As they ew past, I watched them skim water poxed with oil. I wanted to wave them away, flash a warning sign, scare them o . But it was too late. ey continued down the shore, skimming and skimming and skimming. j A brown pelican rests at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Cen- ter in Buras, La., a er a cleaning. Only a tiny fraction of birds are retrieved and released. No one yet knows how oil and dispersants will a ect reproduction. JOEL SARTORE We carried the pelican to the boat. e sopping, sun-heated bird felt as warm as fresh bread.