Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort

Sanderlings and a Willet
Gerry Ellis

Louisiana's Coast Six Months into the BP Disaster

Almost six months after oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster began pouring into the water, the National Audubon Society sent a team of scientists back to the Louisiana Gulf Coast to explore one fundamental question: How safe is it for the birds? For the birds that remained to complete their nesting duties? For the birds that stopped to feed on their migrations farther south? For the birds massing on their traditional wintering grounds? For the birds that will return in a few short months to attempt once again to bring new life to the coast?

What did the scientists see? They saw birds and they saw oil. And too often they saw them together. Explore their full report: Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort.

The oil exposed during low tides, oozing up through layers of sand, or trapped in thick mats of marsh grass is but the latest stress on these birds and the entire ecosystem. The Louisiana coast has been starved of replenishing sediments for decades, invaded by canals, and opened to an eroding sea. Such assaults have weakened the system, potentially courting collapse of a natural cornucopia that feeds not just birds but many marine creatures and much of our nation.

The birds share a dependence on the natural bounty and health of the region with the people living there. Will this vital ecosystem continue to support healthy and thriving wildlife and communities?

As our scientists confirmed, the largest uncontrolled science experiment in our country is in many ways just beginning. Only long-term study, attention, and efforts at system-wide restoration will answer the questions.