Watching the young men working on the beach of Grande Terre, a barrier island near Louisiana pleasure boat paradise Grand Isle, you can almost feel the futility hanging in the air. "We scrape it up, and five miniutes later the beach is covered again," one worker says. Still, Ian Guidry is willing to try to keep the beach clear of the oily muck washing ashore from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, 50 miles away across the Gulf and far out of sight. "I want my children to be able to experience what I experienced growing up here," he says, Gulf fishing, the beach, summer fun in the surf. He is not so sure that will be accomplished. Surveying the brown "mousse" of oil and sea water washing ashore on Grande Terre, "I don't think it will ever be the same again," he says.
The men rake the oil and shovel it up into plastic bags, the oily mess destined for incineration, reprocessing or landfill.
Boating across to Grande Terre, the brown blotches of oil look like autumn leaves twisting in the current. When it gathers on a beach, the effect can be devastating. Subcontractors from British Petroleum assure that they will keep coming back to this beach until the oil and oil-contaminated sand has been scraped clean. When that will happen no one can say. The oil is still rolling in. They estimate that just about 200 miles of Gulf state beaches are experiencing some level of contamination from the oil. Assaulting that oil with a rake or a backhoe will depend on how much oil has landed and how fragile the coastline it has settled upon.
This island and the larger Grand Isle are at the most likely Louisiana landing points for the oil drifting in from Deepwater Horizon. Across the bay there is a rainbow-oil sheen across the surface of the water, obvious to the naked eye, broken by the occasional porpoise rising to the surface to breathe. It's unclear so far, according to a BP subcontractor, what impact the oil is having on porpoise mortality around the islands. He says some dead porpoises have been found, but it's not certain if they represent normal mortality or the beginning of an oil-driven die-off. On the beach a number of Brown Pelicans have already been recovered wallowing in the brown muck and rushed ashore for sedation and cleaning. Other pelicans circle the sky lazily or dive suddenly into the water, oblivious to the danger which surrounds them.
Yellow booms break in the surf. It's not clear how well they are containing the drifting oil, but BP's navy of out-of-work fishermen and other locals are out in force, placing and replacing absorbent boom lines around the most endangered points and beaches near Grand Isle. They may succeed in keeping the oil off the beaches, but the summer sport fishing season on Grand Isle, the economic and cultural lifeline to these small islands, has already been canceled and no one can say for sure when another season can safely be begun.
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