Here’s How Big Oil Obliterated a Tiny Island.

by Owen James Burke


The island degraded slowly at first, but once the mangroves died off, its recession into the Gulf was eminent, and swift. Image: NatGeo.

Five years ago, Cat Island off the Louisiana coast was 5.5 acres one of the state’s 4 largest bird sanctuaries, a tightly-woven mangrove and a rookery for brown pelicans. Today, it barely breaks the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.


Image: NatGeo.

After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, the island was encircled with inflatable booms to keep the island from becoming contaminated. According to chemists, no further action was necessary as they hypothesized that by the time the oil slick reached the tiny island, it would have been stripped of its volatile compounds. Not so.

Last year, scientists discovered residual PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), a harmful chemical cocktail found in oil which they believe may be killing the mangrove trees and causing the island to erode (as land does when stripped of its vegetation). A recent study which aimed at testing the effects on insects could not be completed; not only were the birds gone, there were no bugs left either.

Is this the fate of the Atlantic seaboard now, being faced with the possible opening of offshore drilling?

Video: NatGeo.

Read Scuttlefish contributor Carolyn Sotka’s guide to offshore drilling in the Southeast Atlantic: what it means, and what to do (parts I & II). -OJB

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