Scientist seeks signs of marsh recovery from oil spill in Barataria Bay


A scientist from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie is preparing to study whether oiled marshes in northern Barataria Bay have recovered from the Gulf oil spill.

Alex Kolker, a scientist at the consortium’s marine center, received a $35,721 grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund to conduct his research, according to The Courier newspaper of Houma.

Kolker said he wants to follow up on new growth he witnessed in northern Barataria Bay wetlands during the summer, when he and his graduate student discovered bright-green shoots of marsh grass growing out of heavily oiled wetlands.

Nearly 430 miles of marsh shoreline in Louisiana were oiled during the spill.

Kolker said much marsh-growth research involves marking areas and counting the number of plants growing in an area. But he doesn’t want to hurt the marsh as he researches its recovery in a project that begins this week.

Marshes will be digitally photographed from the same location over a period of time. LUMCON researchers will then use image analysis software to calculate the percentage of area where growth occurs.

Researchers at LUMCON and institutions around the nation have been worried about the effects of the spill on the survival of Louisiana’s vulnerable wetlands.

“People can play armchair quarterback and come up with any different number of scenarios about what’s happening to these marshes, but we want to go out and make measurements. We want to know what’s actually happening,” Kolker said. “They’re food and habitat for a number of ecologically important species and protect us from storms.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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