Reckless conduct. Gross carelessness. Felony lying. Manslaughter. These charges aren’t facing a hardened criminal or a mafia boss. They relate to an oil spill. Finally, after decades of cleanup, a slick-slathered Louisiana island has been reborn.
Picture Louisiana’s outline as a stocking-clad foot. Upon inspection, the sock appears tattered. Those “tatters” are numerous small islands: Isle Grand Terre, Beauregard, and many others. Queen Bess Island is there too, barely a blip in the Gulf of Mexico, about 45 miles south of New Orleans.
Queen Bess is one of Louisiana’s largest breeding colonies for brown pelicans. In 1956, the marshy island was 45 acres. By 2010, it had shrunk to about 15 acres. Flooding and rising ocean levels gulped up the land. Yet every summer, about 6,500 brown pelicans—plus 3,000 smaller seabirds—crammed their nests onto that itty-bitty plot of land.
The situation on Queen Bess was bleak for the birds. Then tragedy struck.
Deepwater Horizon was a floating oil-drilling rig owned by energy giant BP (British Petroleum). In April 2010, gas from an underwater well exploded. Fire sank the rig. Eleven people died. The well spewed more than 100 million gallons of oil into the gulf over the next 87 days. The oil spread . . . for miles.
When the slick reached Queen Bess Island, more than 1,000 birds perished. Brown pelicans struggled, their wings weighed down by black muck. Fish, dolphins, birds, and sea plants died. The incident became one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history.
BP has been paying for environmental damage from the spill. With the money, Louisiana officials restored Queen Bess as a pelican habitat. Contractors for Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority added over 30 acres back using sand from the Mississippi River. They’ve planted about 24,000 woody plants for species to use for building nests—and built a line of offshore seawalls. These will slow erosion and provide calm water for young birds.
God promises to renew His creation—including you and me. God tells us that He “will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
Before restoration on Queen Bess, crowding had made the shrubs look like apartment houses, nest above nest: a gull on the ground, an egret in middle branches, and a brown pelican at the top. Biologist Todd Baker supervises the island’s restoration. He says, “It was cool to look at but not necessarily good for those birds.”
Today, there’s plenty of room for pelicans, skimmers, terns, and other birds to spread their wings.