Study: Louisiana marshes will take longer to recover from Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Local News

HOUMA, La. (The Houma Courier/WWL-TV) (KLFY) — (5/15/19) While prior research suggested it takes a decade to recover from oil spills, scientists believe it will take a few more years for Louisiana’s marshes to recover from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Shortly after the largest marine oil spill was contained in 2010, a team of 10 researchers began sampling sites in the marsh in Barataria Bay. Some of the sites under observation were heavily covered with oil from the spill, as Barataria Bay was one of the areas hit hardest.

Others were moderately oiled, and the researches saw how different amounts of oiling affected the rate of recovery. In heavily oiled sites, the marsh basically looked dead, said LSU Professor Emeritus John Fleeger, who focused on observing the algae and microorganisms.

Marsh grass was matted with oil, he said. “It was gloppy and thick,” said Fleeger. “It killed all the plants where the wind and waves brought up the oil.”

Today, all of the sites under review have seen the return of some greenery and wildlife. But the new growth tells only part of the story. Fleeger and Nicholls State Professor Sean Graham said below the ground, healing is even slower.

“The heavily oiled sites still haven’t recovered above ground or below ground, and that is as of November of 2018,” said Graham.

Though next year will mark a decade since the catastrophic spill, Graham said, he expects it will take at least another three to five years for heavily oiled sites to fully recover.

Researchers also found that the soil in the oiled sites wasn’t able to pull carbon from the atmosphere as effectively, something that is key to retaining land amid the area’s struggle with coastal erosion.

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