THIBODAUX, La.-- For months on end, hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, affecting everything from birds to marshes to sea life. When the flow stopped back in mid-July, scientists finally started getting a handle on just how much of an effect the spill was having on the environment.
"All is not lost. The marshes will come back," said Kerry St. Pe of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP). "The marshes are coming back, but the impacts are great from the spill."
Those impacts were the main focus of a conference held by the BTNEP on Wednesday at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Scientists with the estuary program are still searching for oiled birds.
"We're still running into oiled birds and this is several weeks after people are saying we're no long seeing oil on the surface of the water," said BTNEP Senior Scientist Richard DeMay. "So, the impacts are still being felt by these birds."
Aside from birds, the conference focused on a number of areas where oil affected the environment, including marsh grasses, air quality and sea life -- particularly turtles. Since the spill began, more than 200 turtles were rescued and taken to the Audubon Nature Institute for treatment. The number of turtles coming in now, though, is far fewer than it was a few weeks ago.
"They have been finding them, but the turtles that they are seeing now have far less oil," said Dr. Cara Field of the Audubon Nature Institute "In fact, they have sometimes none and very small patches of oil."
In those cases, scientists said the turtles are put right back into the wild. What long-term effects the oil will have on the environment, though, is still not clear and probably won't be for some time.
"That's the big question -- we don't know," DeMay said.
One oil spill effect has become clearer though: a renewed attention on the need to restore the state's coast.
"It's going to take a lot of money. We're taking about doubling the size of some of the islands, which is going to take $2 million dollars for one island," St. Pe said. "But these are the kind of things that are going to have to happen if we are going to restore the whole system."
Whether the spill ends up serving as a catalyst for restoration could determine if a silver lining ever accompanies the BP oil spill.