Scientists look to develop oil-resistant strains of coastal and marsh vegetation

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on June 9, 2010 at 6:17 PM

MONTEGUT, La-- It is an oil assault on Louisiana's sensitive coastline, as the spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to have a profound impact on the state's barrier islands and coastal marshes.

In some places, vegetation that has been impacted by the spill has already begun dying off. Now, science is stepping in to fight back.

"We have to develop oil-resistant plants to re-forest or to re-vegetate that," said Rusty Gaude, a fisheries agent with the LSU AgCenter and part of the Louisiana Sea Grant program.

Gaude is part of a team of scientists looking at which plants along the coast appear to be surviving the oil spill.

"We have a spectrum of things that are all the way from very resistant to very vulnerable," he said.

Scientists are hoping to locate oil-resistant clumps of vegetation that they could divide and then re-divide, until they have enough to begin replanting along the coast.

"We are going to visually and hand-select the plants that are still living and show some viability, when all of their peers have died," Gaude said.

However, developing any vegetation resistant to the oil spill is still in its very early stages. It is a complicated process that could take years to develop.

"What the oil is going to do when it gets into these shallow marshes, it's going to deplete the oxygen from the water, which will probably kill a lot of fish as well," said Herdis Neil, owner of T-Beb Wetland Nursery in Montegut.

His business is part nursery, part science lab. Large pots are sit with grasses soaking in oil, that was pulled from the Gulf of Mexico spill. Neil has worked with the LSU AgCenter on past projects and is now working with a Gretna-based company to develop a compound, which could minimize the impact of oil by helping in the marshes process more oxygen.

"We're going to lose the Louisiana coast," Neil said. "We're losing it to saltwater now and [the oil spill] is just going to make it happen a lot faster."

Meanwhile, the LSU AgCenter is hoping to fully identify which vegetation appears to be the most oil-resistant by next spring.

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