Oil spill money for bird rookery off Louisiana coast

WWL Newsroom
November 09, 2019 - 10:20 am

AP Photo

Nearly $10 million in 2010 oil spill money is rebuilding a barrier island bird rookery off Louisiana.

Work on Queen Bess Island had to wait for this year’s nesting season to end in August and must finish by late February or early March, before the next nesting season.

Queen Bess Island was the first spot where brown pelicans were returned to Louisiana after the pesticide DDT wiped out Louisiana’s state bird in the 1960s. Today, the island supports Louisiana’s third-largest brown pelican nesting colony, with about 15% to 20% of all nests in the state.

But its usable nesting area is now down to about 5 acres. The island also was heavily hit by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, but that’s been cleaned and birds are back.

Plans call for 30 acres of pelican habitat and 7 acres for terns and skimmers, smaller birds that nest on gravel.

The $9.8 million contract with New Orleans-based Pontchartrain Partners LLC. is only part of the project. Engineering, design, operation, maintenance and monitoring will add up to nearly $7 million more, said Chuck Perrodin, spokesman for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Many pelicans have stayed in the area in spite of the construction work, and biologists say that’s a good sign.

The island’s southernmost area was worn down to an outline in the water. That’s being filled with sand dredged out of the Mississippi River and barged to Queen Bess Island. The final surface will be as much as 5 feet above sea level. About 7 acres of that area will be covered with geotextile fabric and topped with a 6-inch layer of crushed limestone for the terns and skimmers.

The sand will slope gradually down to the island’s northern tip, with black mangroves and other plants added to create nesting habitats and hold the sand.

This year’s planting likely will be too late for many of those plants to survive, so Pontchartrain Partners will return next year, Perrodin said. “When the pelicans leave at the end of the nesting season — late August or September — they’ll go back in and uproot or replant whatever didn’t have time to establish itself,” he said.

Up to 21 “bird ramps” — pads of crushed limestone or other material to make easy walkways for youngsters that can swim but can’t yet fly — will be created every 250 feet or so around the reconstructed island.

Breakwaters will be created all along the southwest side to slow erosion from waves and provide calm water for young water birds. A smaller breakwater area will reduce erosion from an area designed to let fish in and out of the lowest part of the island.

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