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Barataria Bay, Queen Bess Island, Brown Pelicans, and Oil

Pelican on Bayou Terre aux Boeufs, 2007

It was on Queen Bess Island, in Barataria Bay two miles north of Grand Isle, that Louisiana began to bring back its state bird from the brink of extinction.

Queen Bess Island, Barataria Bay

Before the birds vanished from the island in the early 1960s as many as 85,000 brown pelicans nested on the Louisiana Coast. Then they disappeared.

In 1968 the the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries trucked pelicans in from Florida and deposited them on Queen Bess Island, Isle aux  Pitre, and North Island. Over the next dozen years Wildlife and Fisheries introduced an average of 110 birds a year to Queen Bess and North Island. Because pelicans nest where they were born, Louisiana clipped some birds wings to render them flightless. In this way the state established resident groups on the islands. Hence, birds hatched on the islands would return return to the islands to breed.

But then, Queen Bess Island itself almost vanished, shrinking from 45 acres in the 1956 to 20 in 1989. And the island was sinking.

In 1990 Congress passed the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, the Breaux Act for short, and appropriated funds for the restoration of the deteriorating Louisiana Coast.

Immediately, Louisiana began restoring Queen Bess Island, first building shell dike in open water that mimicked the islands original shoreline. Then, workers filled the gap behind the dike with 150,000 cubic yards of dredge scooped up during maintenance of the Barataria Waterway.

They build interior dikes to recreate and short up island ridges and planted them in was myrle, marsh elders, matrimony vine, and black mangrove.

Two years later the state returned to the island and surrounded it with 30,000 tons of rock armor to keep it from washing away.

Clean up workers follow a trail of oil debris on Raccoon Island, May 12, 2010

In 1987 the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries set up a nesting colony on Raccoon Island in the Isle Deniers, but it too was disappearing. Wave energy and overwash was eroding the island at the rate of 36 feet per year. Ten years later the state built eight rock breakwaters on the south of eastern end of the island, stablizing its western end.

By 2002 it looked as though the Louisiana’s population of brown pelicans had stabilized. In 2009 the state took the bird off its endangered list. In 2010 oil from the Deepwater Horizon gusher washed through Barataria Pass between Grand Isle and Grand Terre and onto Queen Bess Island. Even if there is no oil on Queen Bess, pelicans dive for their food. Once oil invades their feeding grounds, it is a set up for disaster.

June 3: Gov. Bobby Jindal has gotten approval from President Obama and the Coast Guard to build his temporary barrier island out front of existing barrier islands. Len Bahr atLaCoastPost has a discussion coastal scientists’ take on the efficacy of the plan, which includes building sacrificial marshes behind the sand berms. He also included a link to Louisiana’s PBS Station’s series of broadcasts on the artificial barrier islands and the fate of the brown pelican. It is worth a listen.

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One Response

  1. Pelicans, Back from Brink of Extinction, Face Threat From Oil Spill…

    The island was one of three sites in Louisiana where the large, long-billed birds were reintroduced after pesticides wiped them out in the say in the 1960s.But on Thursday, 29 of the birds, their feathers so coated in thick brown sludge that their natu…

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