Barataria Bay: As officials approached to survey the damage the Gulf oil spill caused in coastal marshes, some brown pelicans couldn`t fly away Sunday. All they could do was hobble.
Several pelicans were coated in oil on Barataria Bay off Louisiana, their usually brown and white feathers now jet black. Pelican eggs were glazed with rust-colored gunk, and new hatchlings and nests were also coated with crude.
It is unclear if the area can even be cleaned, or if the birds can be saved. It is also unknown how much of the Gulf Coast will end up looking the same way because of a well that has spewed untold millions of gallons of oil since an offshore rig exploded more than a month ago.
"As we talk, a total of more than 65 miles of our shoreline now has been oiled," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who announced new efforts to keep the spill from spreading.
A mile-long tube operating for about a week has siphoned off more than half a million gallons in the past week, but it began sucking up oil at a slower rate over the weekend. Even at its best the effort did not capture all the oil leaking, and the next attempt to stanch the flow won`t be put into action until at least Tuesday.
With oil pushing at least 12 miles into Louisiana`s marshes and two major pelican rookeries now coated in crude, Jindal said the state has begun work on chain of berms, reinforced with containment booms, that would skirt the state`s coastline.
Jindal, who visited one of the affected nesting grounds Sunday, said the berms would close the door on oil still pouring from a mile-deep gusher about 50 miles out in the Gulf. The berms would be made with sandbags and sand hauled in; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also is considering a broader plan that would use dredging to build sand berms across more of the barrier islands.
At least 6 million gallons of crude have spewed into the Gulf, though some scientists have said they believe the spill already surpasses the 11 million-gallon 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska as the worst in U.S. history.
Obama administration officials continued defending their response while criticizing that of BP PLC, which leased the rig and is responsible for the cleanup. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he is "not completely" confident that BP knows what it`s doing.
"If we find they`re not doing what they`re supposed to be doing, we`ll push them out of the way appropriately," Salazar said. But federal officials have acknowledged that BP has expertise that they lack in stopping the deep-water leak.
In Barataria Bay, orange oil had made its way a good 6 inches onto the shore, coating grasses and the nests of brown pelicans in mangrove trees. Just six months ago, the birds had been removed from the federal endangered species list.
The pelicans struggled to clean the crude from their bodies, splashing in the water and preening themselves. One stood at the edge of the island with its wings lifted slightly, its head drooping — so encrusted in oil it couldn`t fly.
Wildlife officials tried to rescue oil-soaked pelicans Sunday, but they suspended their efforts after spooking the birds. They weren`t sure whether they would try again. U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Stacy Shelton said it is sometimes better to leave the animals alone than to disturb their colony.
Pelicans are especially vulnerable to oil. Not only could they eat tainted fish and feed it to their young, but they could die of hypothermia or drowning if they`re soaked in oil.