Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Birds and the Louisiana Oil Spill

Following up on the Mississippi River oil spill, so far I have seen very few reports of bird deaths or injuries, which is a relief. The US Fish and Wildlife service is setting up propane cannons and other bird-scaring devices to keep waterfowl out of the fouled areas.

Installation of some 100 propane cannons that emit loud blasts started in marshy areas of the West Bank on Sunday and all should be in place by Tuesday, said Peter Tuttle, an environmental contaminant specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said the first of the cannons were set up between Belle Chasse and Pointe a la Hache.

The cannons ignite propane gas to produce loud explosions at timed or random intervals. They will target areas frequented by water birds like egrets, herons and ducks, and the canons will be moved every few days, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The cannons will be supplemented with modified flare guns and starter pistols that fire special bird-scaring shells, officials said.

The wildlife agency said the noise-making operation is expected to continue until the swamp areas are cleared of oil contaminants.
While the bird casualties have been low for a spill of this size, the oil is no doubt having effects on other types of organisms – perhaps fish, and certainly crustaceans and other invertebrates. What long-term impact that will have remains to be seen.