News Release

Southeastern scientists following oil spill

Contact: Rene Abadie


     HAMMOND – Although the British Petroleum oil spill has yet to reach lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas and their related marshes, Southeastern Louisiana University scientists and faculty have mobilized to record the impacts of the disaster as they apply to the region. 
     Robert Moreau, director of the university’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station in Pass Manchac, told members of the Hammond Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning the oil at this point is not likely to enter the lakes.
     “However we are just starting hurricane season, and it’s projected to be a busy one,” he said. “If we do have a storm of any significance, it could bring the oil into our area.”
     And the oil and the dispersants being use to break it up could have negative impacts on the area’s wildlife.
     “The western Lake Pontchartrain Basin area, including the Manchac and Lake Maurepas Wildlife Management areas and surrounding waters, represents a huge recreational and commercial fishing industry, and we all will feel those impacts if anything comes into our estuary,” Moreau said, citing increases in seafood prices, limitations on boating and water activities and effects on wildlife, particularly birds.
     Lake Maurepas is a shrimp estuary, he explained, so it is off limits for commercial shrimping. “But this is where the small shrimp grow and thrive,” he said. “It’s an important area for our state’s overall seafood production.”
     Moreau said Southeastern’s response to the oil spill thus far is to begin monitoring hydrocarbon levels in lakes Borne, Pontchartrain and Maurepas.
     “We will start next week with simple tests in the Rigolets, Chef’s Pass and other areas to collect water samples so we can get some baseline data before any oil gets into the area,” he explained. He expects that collected information will provide baseline information, which may lead to grants that will allow Southeastern scientists to perform more intensive research.
     The negative effects of the spill will not be contained to environmental impacts, he stated. Economic and cultural changes have already begun to take their toll.
     Moreau told the group of his recent trip to Grand Isle to shoot video for an upcoming episode of “Backyard Wonders,” which he hosts for the Southeastern Channel.
     “It’s a devastating site, virtually deserted,” he said. “The roads are empty, no one is in the water, restaurants are making less than 10 percent of what they normally take in. It’s a very discouraging situation, especially economically. As bad as the spill is, I think we’ll recover more quickly environmentally than we will economically.”
     Moreau said there are several points we can hope for that would lessen the long-term impact of the oil spill.
     “First, the leak must be stopped; that’s foremost,” he emphasized. “And perhaps the hurricane season won’t be nearly as bad as is currently predicted.”
     Nature has a way of healing itself, he added. “The saying, ‘the best solution to pollution is dilution,’ is definitely true.” In addition, he explained, the warm gulf waters and the fact that the oil is supposedly a light crude should allow it to decompose and disperse more than if it were a heavier weight.
     “Finally, it’s a lesson; hopefully we will learn from this experience so it never happens again,” he said.
     He said other Southeastern researchers are evaluating possible impacts on amphibian and snake populations in the Manchac region, performing a health assessment of the ecosystem area in the Manchac and Maurepas swamps, and the implications of the spill on the economy and culture of the region.

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