Huffpost Reports – There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

Huffpost Reports - There’s An Environmental Disaster Unfolding In The Gulf of Mexico

As fishermen deep in the Louisiana bayou, Kindra Arnesen and her family have faced their share of life-altering challenges in recent years. 

First came Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 monster storm that devastated her small fishing community in Plaquemines Parish before roaring up the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people and destroying $125 billion in property. Five years later, BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded 40 miles offshore, spewing nearly 200 million gallons of crude. The fisheries have not fully recovered more than nine years later, nor has her family.

But this year may be worse. A historic slow-moving flood of polluted Mississippi River water loaded with chemicals, pesticides and human waste from 31 states and two Canadian provinces is draining straight into the marshes and bayous of the Gulf of Mexico — the nurseries of Arnesen’s fishing grounds — upsetting the delicate balance of salinity and destroying the fragile ecosystem in the process. As the Gulf waters warm this summer, algae feed on the freshwater brew, smothering oxygen-starved marine life. 

And as of Wednesday, an advancing storm looks likely to turn into a tropical storm or hurricane by the weekend, with the potential to bring torrential downpours and more freshwater flooding.

Fishermen and state government officials agree this long, hot summer may go down in history as one of the most destructive years for Gulf fisheries. The torrent of river water pushing into Gulf estuaries is decimating crab, oyster and shrimp populations. The brown shrimp catch this spring in Louisiana and Mississippi is already down by an estimated 80%, and oysters are completely wiped out in some of the most productive fishing grounds in the country, according to state and industry officials. The polluted freshwater has also triggered algae blooms, which have led to beach closures across Mississippi. 

“The Army Corps of Engineers says we had the most rainfall in 124 years,” said Joe Spraggins, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. “Shrimpers and crabbers are struggling. Oystermen are almost nonexistent. … It’s not going to get better soon.”

“I’ve had grown men call me on the phone and cry,” said Arnesen, who serves on the board of the Louisiana Shrimp Association and works on state coastal management issues. “This feels like the height of the BP oil spill.”

Mississippi and Louisiana have already started the process of requesting federal disaster assistance for damaged fisheries. But it will likely be a long while before any money reaches the fishermen whose nets are coming up empty. To officially apply for disaster relief, Louisiana state officials say they need more data, which will take months to compile. 

“We are seeing impacts across the coast in all sectors of the fishing communities,” said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We will continue to collect data to support a disaster declaration.” 

It’s not just fisheries that are suffering. Dolphins have been dying in huge numbers across the region — nearly 300 this year already, which is three times the number in a normal year, according to federal and state officials. Fishermen report finding dead dolphins floating in water near shore or beached in the marshes, covered in painful skin lesions that scientists have linked to freshwater exposure. One fisherman reported finding a mother dolphin pushing her dead baby along in the water. 

“Their skin looks like a Brillo pad,” said Louisiana charter boat captain George Ricks, who heads the Save Louisiana Coalition, a coastal management advocacy organization.

Ricks and many other fishermen blame the unprecedented deluge of freshwater pouring into the Gulf. The Bonnet Carre, a huge spillway that protects New Orleans, has already opened an unprecedented two times this year to divert surging Mississippi River water and is currently pouring more than 100,000 cubic feet per second into Lake Pontchartrain. Being able to close the spillway again depends on rainfall upriver.

The Army Corps of Engineers operates the spillway and says it has no choice but to keep it open to protect property upstream. The Corps argues that some of this flooding can be beneficial to the ecosystem. “The introduction of fresh water during leakage events simulates the natural cycle of overbank flooding and provides numerous ecosystem benefits to the aquatic and terrestrial resources in the spillway,” the agency notes on its website.  Continue reading this great article –