DU's Gulf Oil Spill Update

Ducks Unlimited has devoted a section of its website to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill. It's a pretty good round-up of the situation, complete with facts and figures, videos (including CEO Dale Hall's trip to the Gulf), FAQs and action alerts.

The three biggest questions I had regarding this unforeseen threat to waterfowl populations are addressed in the FAQs section:

Q. Which species of wintering ducks are at risk if the oil washes up into the salt, brackish and freshwater marshes and ponds?
First, it's really fortunate this didn't occur in winter, because of the number of birds that are attracted to that area then.

In the area most at risk of oil contamination, anywhere from 1 million to 2 million lesser scaup (bluebills) may spend the winter. About half that number uses offshore habitats, where the oil is. This would have been a catastrophe. Likewise, canvasbacks and redheads would be threatened had this occurred in winter, and could be in the upcoming winter. Around 15,000 to 25,000 canvasbacks, for instance, spend the winter in wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi, directly in the path of the oil. Additionally, we've had about 25,000 redheads winter on the shoal grass flats associated with the Chandeleur Islands which also are in the path of the oil.

In the interior marshes, gadwalls are probably the most abundant birds. Also, green-winged teal and blue-winged teal are fairly abundant. And lots of pintails pass the winter south of Venice, which is near where the oil is. American wigeon are also fairly common down there. And during some years, so are mallards.

Q. What's the best-case scenario?
That they get the well capped, and quickly, and that the oil itself stays offshore where it can be skimmed, cleaned or, if necessary, burned off. That has toxicological issues also, but it would prevent the oil from coming on shore. But the best-case scenario is pretty unlikely. The oil slick is growing so fast, and this time of year the prevailing winds down here are from the south and southeast.

Q. The worst case?
If it gets into the marshes in a paint-like consistency, the vegetation can be killed. Those plants serve a lot of functions. They hold the soil in place. If the vegetation dies, the root mass degenerates and the soil is exposed to wind and wave action, and eventually erodes. In that case, the marsh land and associated marsh ponds that support wintering waterfowl would be lost. Those kinds of losses are and were occurring at a rate of about 20,000 acres annually. The spill could accelerate those losses.

The extent to which the disaster will affect wintering ducks (and, for that matter, resident mottled ducks), remains to be seen; however, it's obvious that no good will come from this. I think we owe it to the ducks to keep abreast of the latest developments regarding the spill and help out in any way we can.

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1 Response to DU's Gulf Oil Spill Update

BlackLab wrote:
June 09, 2010

Thank you, DU, for staying on top of this disaster. You too, Kyle. I have horrible visions of ducks arriving on their wintering grounds hungry from a long migration and finding nothing to eat.