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Island of Pelicans

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

First baby brown pelicans born on Louisiana island since restoration from BP oil spill.

It's lovely to hear the little heartwarming news that an island off America's Louisiana coast has recovered so well from the Deepwater Horizon disaster two and a half years ago, that it's now, once more, covered in happy adult pelicans and hundreds of their cute little baby pelicans.

“This is one of the first projects we finished with our restoration funds,” says Katie Freer, project manager of the Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority. “The pelicans started arriving in late February, early March, right after we finished, and these are the first chicks born on the island after restoration.”

Queen Bess Island is one of the largest breeding grounds for the Louisiana state bird and was damaged heavily after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The 37-acre island, which is surrounded by small boulders, was directly oiled, leaving only five nesting acres available for the pelicans.

In addition, Queen Bess faced challenges from erosion and weakened vegetation, which held the sands of the island together. It was also sinking, suffering the same fate as the 70,000 acres Louisiana has lost over the last 10 years to sea level rise and erosion.

“They were literally nesting on top of each other as it continued to shrink,” says Todd Baker, a wildlife biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The dire need for pelican nesting space made the island’s restoration one of the first projects undertaken by the CPRA as part of its $50 billion Coastal Master Plan, much of which is funded by the BP spill settlement. Engineers dredged sand from the Mississippi River, used hay bales to stop sand from washing away, and planted 25,000 native plants like black mangroves, marsh elder, and matrimony vines to help hold the island together.

“The biggest thing we did was elevate the island,” says Freer. “We engineered the project to reach elevations that we believe even factoring in subsidence, that it will stay above the high-water level for decades to come.”

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