Seeping oil threatens ecosystems in Gulf marshes

WAVELAND — At least a dozen tiny crabs scurried along the sandy bottom of Jackson Marsh here, just inches beneath a streak of oily sheen racing back into a crude-soaked Gulf with the tide.

It's a scene that angered Mayor Tommy Longo, who witnessed devastation of a different kind when Hurricane Katrina leveled his city five years ago.

"It was like a kick in the gut, after all that we've been through," he said about seeing the brown goo stuck on the fragile needle rush in the marsh earlier this month.

The marshes on the Coast serve as nurseries for shrimp, crabs and other sea life, a nesting ground for pelicans and other birds and a much-needed buffer against Gulf hurricanes.

The millions of gallons of oil spilled already threatens to kill the intricate ecosystem. Without the marsh, smaller fish won't be able to hide from predators. Shrimp won't breed and birds won't nest. The grasses won't be there to block the tidal surges.

Longo had watched the creeping crude melt into the marshes of Louisiana, but trusted Coast Guard and BP officials who said Coast wetlands would be aggressively defended.

The people on the ground, those with sticky crude on their fingers and caked to their boots, knew what would work, but their suggestions were ignored, he said.

Silt fencing went up after the oil made its way into the pristine wetlands through one of the county's many outfalls. Now the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has taken a wait-and-see approach while Mother Nature tries to handle the invasion.

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