MYRTLE GROVE — On a boat ride Tuesday from Myrtle Grove through Barataria Bay to see what remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil almost five years after the April 20, 2010, disaster, it all looks so normal.
There are no absorbent booms lining the beach, barely weathered oil is not pooling in the marsh of south Louisiana, and there are no brown pelicans struggling through the reddish-brown goop that had washed up on the shores in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
But members of coastal, wildlife and environmental organizations pointed out during Tuesday’s trip that looks can be deceiving.
“It’s invisible, but it’s still there,” said David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico restoration program.
Over time, oil breaks down into components that, in some cases, can be more toxic to fish and wildlife than the original oil, Muth said. While the oil is not as obvious as it was in late 2010 after it finally reached shore, those oil components still exist.
“It’s still bio-accumulating in organisms,” Muth said.
A report the National Wildlife Federation released Monday cited findings that BP oil compounds were found in white pelican eggs as far away as Minnesota.
The remnants of oil on Louisiana beaches aren’t all hidden. Tar balls continue to wash up on beaches and tar mats of sand and hardened oil get uncovered by winds and waves.
“We were out here two weeks ago, the day after BP released their report that everything is fine in the Gulf,” said Alisha Renfro, coastal scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. At that time, a crew of about 20 people was cleaning up a mat of oil and sand that had re-emerged on the beach of East Grand Terre.
Visitors to the island Tuesday still found a few tar balls among the shells, seaweed and other debris tossed onto the beach.
The BP report made the company’s case that the Gulf of Mexico is almost back to the condition it was in before the 2010 oil release. Coastal and environmental groups as well as the Natural Resource Defense Council said the BP report was premature and misleading.
“They think they can convince the rest of the country that nothing happened,” Renfro said.
What was once two islands with one name, Cat Island is quickly becoming a name only as only a small ridge of shells remains of what was just a few years ago an island of mangrove thickets that provided nesting habitat for brown pelicans. Now, the mangroves are just bare twigs sticking out of a mudflat surrounding the shell ridge. The birds have moved on.
“As we lose habitat, we lose birds,” Renfro said.
The Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released a statement Tuesday saying impacts of the oil spill are ongoing and urging a faster move to restoration.
“Restoration solutions are within reach and plans are in place, but implementation of restoration plans cannot fully begin until BP accepts responsibility and pays its fines,” the statement reads. “The Gulf Coast — and the people, wildlife and jobs that depend on it — cannot wait any longer.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.