Gulf Coast Islands: Now You See ‘Em, Now You…??

Four years have passed since the BP Oil and Gas Disaster began in the Gulf of Mexico.  Some of the lasting damage from that spill is just becoming apparent.  One possibility: the acceleration of wetlands loss and coastal erosion due to the die-off of marsh vegetation.  The small, isolated islands that dot the bays are most vulnerable. Like much of the Mississippi Delta region, natural subsidence compounded by sea-level rise and the fragmentation of marshland by oil and gas activity was threatening their existence before BP’s oil washed in.  But the spill-related loss of vegetation may have hastened this decline.    

Using the Historical Imagery tool in Google Earth, it’s easy to see how quickly some of these islands, which provide important habitat for shorebirds and migrating songbirds, are disappearing.  Here is a look at a few of the small islands in Barataria Bay on the Louisiana coast:

Densely vegetated islands in Barataria Bay in 2006.


Same islands in 2010 during the BP oil spill, encircled by booms in an attempt to deflect the oil.
Same islands in 2012, noticeably diminished in size and apparently lacking vegetation.