Coastal restoration efforts get boost from $1 million Shell donation

01 03, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

A $1 million donation from Shell will be used by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program to rebuild a tiny patch of sand in Barataria Bay that reporters covering the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill dubbed Pelican Island. The isle in Plaquemines Parish is one of several just north of East Grand Terre Island that will disappear in the next few years without restoration, said Richard DeMay, senior scientist with the estuary program. The islets are used as nesting rookeries by at least 11 important seabird and shorebird species.

“We looked at 1956 aerial imagery and the island was 200 acres in size,” he said. “In 2008, the last time we looked at aerial photos, it was 6 acres in size. Today, it’s less than 5.”

The plan is to pool the Shell money with other donations to pay the cost of rebuilding four islands: Pelican, Pelican Island 2, Cat Island and Tern Island.

The American Bird Conservancy is partnering with the estuary program in raising the money.

Pelican, the first island to be rebuilt, at a cost of $2.65 million, has historically been the most-used island by the birds, thanks to its lack of natural predators and its nearness to food sources.

In 2008, a nest survey counted 1,000 brown pelicans, 600 great egrets, 27 snowy egrets, and 60 roseate spoonbills using Pelican. Several hundred birds of other species used one or more of the islands.

In 2010, however, the islands — and birds nesting or resting on them — were oiled during the spill, with oil entering Barataria Bay through a variety of passes to the south. Estuary officials took photos of both brown pelicans and roseate spoonbills on Pelican Island whose feathers were stained brown.

The restoration plan calls for circling a wider footprint around each island with rock and then pumping in sediment dredged from nearby. Pelican Island will be expanded to 12 acres.

“This is a simple concept,” said Kerry St. Pé, executive director of the estuary program. “We’ve used it before at places like Queen Bess Island and Wine Island.”

DeMay said estuary program officials are reaching out to other industries active in southeastern Louisiana to make similar donations, in hopes of raising enough money to rebuild more than one of the islands.

The other islands could each cost as much as Pelican if the restoration is not done immediately, because of the high cost of mobilizing and demobilizing the dredging equipment.

But DeMay said he also is hoping to persuade state and federal officials to finance the project with money received from BP or other parties involved in the spill.

BP already has made $1 billion available for restoration projects under the federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. The state and the federal Departments of Commerce and Interior could use part of that money for the projects, but it is one of hundreds of similar projects in four Gulf Coast states vying for a share of the money.

BP and other responsible parties also could be charged between $5 billion and $20 billion in fines under the federal Clean Water Act, and part of that money also could be used for the project.

But DeMay said even awaiting a share of the BP money could take too long. “If we don’t move fast, they won’t be there,” he said.