article 4 nola. com Gulf of Mexico oil spill's environmental impact expected to be profound, long-lasting Published: Friday, May 07, 2010, 8:26 PM As the "Miss Brandy" shrimp boat skimmed rust-colored clumps of oxidized oil from Chandeleur Sound, seagulls from a flock circling nearby dived beneath a light oily sheen on the water's surface to feed on a school of minnows Friday afternoon. "The fish are probably coming to the surface because they're dying from the oil," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Those gulls think they're getting a free meal when really they're getting a load of toxins. " Schweiger, who heads the nation's largest conservation group, led reporters on a six-hour boat tour to survey ecological damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, which has been spewing an estimated 210,000 gallons of sweet crude per day into the Gulf of Mexico since the drilling rig exploded April 20. A 100-mile round trip from Venice to the Chandeleur Islands revealed no oil on the shorelines of several islands.
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However, areas in Chandeleur Sound are crisscrossed by long ribbons of degraded oil, which turns a rust color as iron in the oil is exposed to air. Once scooped from the water, the oily clumps transform into gooey dark brown globs with the consistency of molasses. Shrimp boats were deployed throughout the sound to skim the water with orange booms to corral the floating oil. Schweiger traced the clumping phenomenon to a decision by BP, which was leasing the rig and is in charge of clean-up efforts, to use dispersants both on the water's surface and below the surface to break up the oil before it can wash ashore. Using dispersants minimizes the damage to the coastline, but the oil is spread throughout the water column and probably does more damage to the fisheries," he said. "The dispersants just shift the risk. It's a trade off. " He applauded the decision to halt the use of underwater dispersants on the Deepwater Horizon leak, which is nearly a mile below the water's surface, deeper than chemical dispersants had ever been used before. About two miles west of the Chandeleur Islands, schools of rain minnows could be seen darting beneath the floating oil. Schweiger said the fish are likely doomed. Dispersants will make oil and water mix, but there's no way to make oil and fish mix," he said. Most islands in Chandeleur Sound are not protected by containment booms. One notable exception is New Harbor Island, a prime nesting ground for brown pelicans because the mangrove trees enable the birds to build nests safe from high tides. The island is encircled by booms, but beyond the booms were patches of oily water. "You can protect the island from the oil, but the pelicans are still exposed to it when they feed on fish in contaminated water," Schweiger said. There have been several confirmed sightings of oil on barrier islands, but he oil does not appear to be staying very long, at least not in high concentrations. Schweiger pointed to a spot on Freemason Island, where he had seen oil the day before. Nevertheless, high tides had apparently washed it away by Friday afternoon, when several killdeer could be seen darting along the shoreline where the oil had been. However, Schweiger noted that little of the oil gushing from the ruptured well for more than two weeks has been removed from the water. "Just because you can't always see the oil doesn't mean it's not there and that it's not going to have a huge impact on nature," he said.
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