Thick, brown and rust-colored, sticky oil is washing up on the beaches, marshes and wetlands of some parts of southern Louisiana, threatening wildlife and vital habitat. Those communities not yet seeing oil on their shores are bracing for the worst.
In the coastal waters of St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents inspect areas of rich oyster beds and other critical habitat known as the Biloxi Marsh in Lake Borgne. There's no oil there yet, but it's coming, and there's an increasingly frantic effort to lay miles of boom to keep oil from getting into these marshes.
Local commercial fishermen, hired by BP, have been strategically anchoring the floating booms to protect the marshes. But agent Jason Russo says there often aren't enough booms to encircle an entire marsh, so they're placed around inlets and passes to keep oil from getting too deep into the reeds.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and wife Carole Rome Crist (right) stand with others during a Hands Across the Sand event June 26 in Pensacola, Fla. The event was staged across the nation to protest offshore oil drilling.
A shrimp boat skims oil from the surface of the water just off Orange Beach, Ala., as a family enjoys the surf. Oily tar balls have started washing up on Orange Beach and beaches in the western Florida panhandle.
President Obama walks alongside Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle (from right), U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the federal response to the spill, and Chris Camardelle after meeting with local business owners in Grand Isle, La., June 4.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the BP oil spill. With him, from left: Stephanie Finley and Jim Letten, U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Louisiana; Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division; Tony West, assistant attorney general, Civil Division; and Don Burkhalter, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Residents listen to a discussion with parish officials and a BP representative on May 25 in Chalmette, La. Officials now say that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands affected by the massive oil spill.
An oil-soaked pelican takes flight after Louisiana Fish and Wildlife employees tried to corral it on an island in Barataria Bay on the coast of Louisiana. The island, which is home to hundreds of brown pelican nests as well at terns, gulls and roseate spoonbills, is impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (center) and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser (right) tour the oil-impacted marsh of Pass a Loutre, La. "This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," said Jindal.
BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay (left), with Transocean President and CEO Steven Newman (center) and Applied Science Associates Principal Deborah French McCay, testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing May 18 on response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill.
This undated frame grab image received from BP and provided by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee shows details of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has agreed to display a live video feed of the oil gusher on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee's website beginning Thursday evening.
Tendrils of oil mar the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday. An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are seeping into the Gulf, after an explosion last week on a drilling rig about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Pat Touchard is helping to coordinate the effort to protect the fragile islands and wetlands of St. Bernard Parish. He says in addition to placing booms, crews are out in the open waters near the Mississippi Sound, driving pilings into the sea bed to anchor more booms.
"It's another layer," Touchard says. "This whole concept is defense in layers and defense in strategies."
But after seeing oil the consistency of latex paint coating the reeds and grasses in the marshes of neighboring Plaquemines Parish, some officials are beginning to question the booming strategy.
"I don't know if this is going to be adequate to keep us safe. I doubt it," St. Bernard Parish spokeswoman Jennifer Belsom says.
"In our guts, we don't have a very good feeling, seeing what's happening next door to us in Plaquemines," she continues. "Hopefully somebody will step up to bat and say, 'This is what we're going to do' — and do something a little more effective than just boom."
There is a growing uneasiness along these and other inner-coastal waterways in southeastern Louisiana as the threat to their environs and livelihoods grows ever more real.
"The oil is here," St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro says. "That's an inevitable experience. What we don't know yet is to what extent — to what intensity — we'll experience it."
Taffaro says many of those who earn their living on the water feel like they've been sucker-punched by the oil spill, just four and a half years after almost being knocked out by Hurricane Katrina.
"The future of fishing don't look good," fisherman Don Menesses says. He looks worried as he pulls his boat in after an unsuccessful day fishing for speckled trout on some of the waters that still remain open to fishing. "I've been fishing this area since I was 9 years old."
Now 75, Menesses wonders if this might have been his last time fishing these coastal waters.