Booms Delay The Inevitable; Cleanup Efforts Struggle The oil spill's effects are readily apparent even where cleanup efforts have been most intensive. South of New Orleans, Barataria Bay is a natural treasure, full of shrimp, fish, birds and mammals -- and these days, oil. When these vulnerable sites will be out of danger is anyone's guess.
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Booms Delay The Inevitable; Cleanup Efforts Struggle

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Booms Delay The Inevitable; Cleanup Efforts Struggle

Booms Delay The Inevitable; Cleanup Efforts Struggle

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. Liane Hansen is on vacation.

It's been more than two months since the blowout at BP's Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. Cleanup of the oil has been ongoing ever since. And while oil has fouled beaches and marshes from Louisiana to Florida, most of it has not reached shore. Still, oil is not hard to find, even where cleanup efforts have been most intensive.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports from New Orleans.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Barataria Bay is a wide expanse of shallow water on the southern Louisiana coast. It's a natural treasure, filled with shrimp and fish and birds and mammals. In better days, Brent Ballay would have a couple of sport fishermen onboard his 23-foot skiff.


NAYLOR: On this day under threatening skies, he's giving a group of journalists and officials from the National Wildlife Federation a tour, and he's not happy with what he's looking at.

BRENT BALLAY: Right now, a very, very oily marsh. It's quite nasty, disgusting in fact. It's been just wave after wave of oil here for close to two months.

NAYLOR: We see brown oil-saturated boom in front of marsh grasses looking like anaconda snakes. And as we motor on, it becomes clear the oil is not just on the shores of the marshes, we're on top of it. Sometimes it appears as an iridescent sheen and other times reddish brown spots. Despite all the skimming and boom laying, there is still a lot of oil in Barataria Bay.

Yet, there is also a lot of life. Alongside of the boat, rising out of the oily water, a thrill - a pair of dolphins.

BALLAY: Oh, here he is right here. There are two of them - a mom and a baby.

NAYLOR: It's breathtaking to see them so close you can hear them breathe, yet heartbreaking at the same time. You want to tell them to get away from this oil, but of course they can't - there is no escaping it.

A few miles further out on the bay, we reach Cat Island. It's not very big - a few acres - but it's jam-packed with birds, mostly pelicans, some egrets and a few roseate spoonbills. They're nesting, and if you look closely you can see some of the baby pelicans.


NAYLOR: On the other side of the island, the scene is more disturbing. There are a number of clearly oiled birds.

BALLAY: The spoonbills in the bushes in there, all oiled up. A bunch of them in there. They're supposed to be pink.

NAYLOR: The island is surrounded by two layers of booms, but they're full of oil and need to be replaced, according to Amanda Moore. She's a coastal Louisiana specialist with the National Wildlife Federation.

AMANDA MOORE: This boom should be maintained regularly. I mean, once it's oiled like this, it's useless.

NAYLOR: Ballay says the government should have built sandburs to fill in the breaks between the natural barrier islands to stop the oil from entering the bay much sooner. It's something the federal government only recently approved.

On our way back, the weather clearing, we pass several small boats loaded with clean boom heading out into the bay.


NAYLOR: The people calling the shots about when and where the boom is replaced, along with countless other decisions, are at the Houma Incident Command Post. It's the heart of BP and the government's response to the oil spill along the Louisiana coast. Some 1,100 people work here now, many of them wearing color- coded vests, signifying their roles for colleagues they've never met before, in a bureaucracy that was created almost overnight.

I asked Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Chris Lee about all the oil-soaked boom we saw.

CHRIS LEE: Our goal is to change that out as quick as it's soiled. But for several days in the row we've been shut down for weather and lightning, that sort of thing.

NAYLOR: The coast Guard and BP say they've deployed more than five million feet of boom, along with hundreds of skimming vessels and barges. But despite all those resources, Lee admits that until the well is capped and no longer spewing tens of thousands of new barrels of oil every day into the Gulf, the cleanup is an uphill battle.

LEE: Until that source is secured, we have a growth business. We want to put ourselves out of business but we can't do that until the source is secured.

NAYLOR: There are any number of reasons why the cleanup hasn't accomplished more - bad weather, government bureaucracy, reliance on technology, such as skimmers and booms, that has barely changed since the Exxon Valdez accident. And whenever the oil finally does stop gushing into the Gulf, it will take years, maybe generations, for places like Barataria Bay to recover.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, New Orleans.

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