Prime brown pelican nesting area dramatically eroding near Plaquemines

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 18, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 18 at 7:22 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Email: mrodriguez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mrodriguezwwl

CAT ISLAND, La.-- Two slivers of land stick out in Cat Bay, the body of water which gives them their names: Cat Island East and Cat Island West. The word "island" may be a generous term, though.
 
"This island's on life support," said Mike Benge, senior volunteer with Ducks Unlimited.

The two islands are home to several nesting birds, including the state bird, the brown pelican. However, their habitat is under threat from years of coastal erosion, compounded by the effects of the BP oil spill two years ago.

"During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area got covered with oil," said P.J. Hahn, coastal zone director for Plaquemines Parish. "You can see, most of the mangrove trees are dead."

The erosion on one of the islands is dramatic: before the oil spill, it was about five acres. Now, it is down to less than a half an acre. Part of the problem is, when there is not enough land, pelican eggs are ending up in the water. Those will never hatch.

"The nest is created so the mama can incubate them at a certain temperature," Benge said. "If they go under that certain temperature for any length of time, they're going to be dead."

The Brown Pelican finally came off the endangered species list in 2009, after they virtually disappeared from Louisiana in the 1950s and '60s because of the effects of DDT. Now, there is a growing fear history could repeat itself, because there is not enough habitat for the birds to nest.

"I believe it could, just watching these islands disappearing," Hahn said.

To try and shore up both of the islands, Plaquemines Parish is setting aside $250,000. In order to raise more money for restoration efforts, NOLA Fine Art is selling a print by artist Michael Hunt, based on Hahn's photographs from Cat Island, to benefit Ducks Unlimited and their restoration effort.

"Coastal conservation is more than just water fowl. Coastal conservation is water quality issues, quality of life, seafood," said David Gegenheimer of the St. Bernard Chapter of Ducks Unlimited.

The hope now is to get through hurricane season without a storm -- because that is all it would take to wipe what remains of Cat Island off the map.

For more information on the Cat Island Project print, click here.

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