Many of ACER’s field experiments are being conducted around the Chandeleur Islands. These uninhabited barrier islands lie about 60 miles east of New Orleans and 30 miles south of Biloxi, MS helping to protect eastern Louisiana from waves and storms. Landward (west) of the island chain lies Chandeleur Sound and seaward (east) lies the Gulf of Mexico.
The approximately 50 mile long island chain is a mixture of many coastal habitats, including sandy beaches, salt marshes with cordgrass, vegetated low dunes with black mangrove, groundsel bush and wax myrtle, seagrass beds with turtlegrass, widgeongrass and shoalgrass, and unvegetated sandy/muddy bottoms, as well as inland ponds and tidal creeks.
The Chandeleurs are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s 2nd oldest refuge. The refuge was created in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect migratory birds and the large colonies of nesting birds which use the islands, including the brown pelican, piping plover and many species of terns. They are also a renowned fishing spot.
The Chandeleurs lie about 40 miles from the Deepwater Horizon site. Oil was first noted on the islands on May 5, very soon after the blowout on April 20, 2010. To protect the islands from further oiling, a sand berm was constructed in 3 sections seaward of the north, middle and southern portions of the chain. Much of this sand was quickly eroded away. However, due to the islands’ north-south orientation, areas around the islands experienced different levels of oiling or exposure during the Deepwater Horizon incident. Given the difficult access, uninhabited state and refuge status, no clean-up activities took place on the islands. These islands thus present a unique opportunity for ACER scientists to study a variety of nearshore coastal habitats that experienced different levels of exposure to oil that were left to recover naturally, reducing the confounding effects of clean-up activities or significant geographic differences.