FIFI ISLAND, La. -- The oil spill comes at a time when Louisiana's storm-battered coast was already in peril. Now, some coastal restoration projects already underway are in danger of falling victim to the spill.
Just north of the state's only inhabited barrier island sits one of Louisiana's many uninhabited islands -- Fifi Island. Made up of marsh grasses and black mangroves, Fifi Island provides much-needed storm protection for its neighbor to the south, Grand Isle.
"Fifi Island has helped, from a coastal restoration standpoint, because when you have a hurricane that passes us and you have wave action out of the north, then basically, that helps to break up some of that wave action," said Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts.
With that in mind, Jefferson Parish launched an aggressive effort earlier this year to save Fifi Island, which had eroded over the years. Eyewitness News was there this past spring, as hundreds of volunteers spent two days planting more than 1,600 vegetation seedlings on the island. Those seedlings now have some unwanted company.
Volunteers finished planting mangroves and marsh grasses on Fifi Island on April 17 -- a mere three days before the Deepwater Horizon Rig exploded. Three months later, the oil spill's effects are being felt on the island, as tar balls and oil wash up onshore.
"It's disconcerting," said Jason Smith, who coordinates coastal programs for Jefferson Parish. "Everything is going to be about monitoring."
Smith helped oversee the restoration project on the island in April and came to check on it for the first time since the spill. He came away from the experience with a new checklist for what to look for on future island visits. It is a list that now includes oil related material.
"Obviously, this area and other islands and other marsh areas are always going to be monitored continually, gathering data, because sometimes when you look at areas that look clean, sometimes they're not clean," Smith said.
That becomes a concern because if enough oil ends up on Fifi Island, it could create a domino effect in the long run -- not just there, but in other coastal areas as well.
"Any place that the oil has impacted the marsh, or impacted the marsh grass, it's died. So, there's going to be some long term effects here on coastal issues, because we lost additional ground, on top of what we normally do through natural processes," Councilman Roberts said. "The big question is, what has this oil spill done to possibly impede some of the efforts that have been put forth over the course of the last few years? That long-term impact, we won't know for some time."
At this point, there is some oil containment and absorbent boom placed around the island, as well as rock jetties previously set up to prevent additional erosion. However, recent rough weather and higher than normal tides may have helped push the oil and tar balls onto the island.