Gulf's Artificial Islands Already Failing

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A dramatic series of of aerial images show that plans to build artificial islands to block oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill from reaching Louisiana's sensitive marshland appear to be crumbling. Literally.

Two months ago, against the advice of many coastal scientists, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal began furiously campaigning for the construction of six artificial islands to hold back the advancing oil. The federal government quickly granted Jindal his wish, and construction on the islands has been continuing apace.

But images taken of one construction site near the northern edge of the Chandeleur islands appear to show the sea washing away a giant sand berm over the course of about two weeks.

The first image, at top, was taken on June 25. The second and third, below, were taken from roughly the same vantage point on July 2 and 7. All three images were first published yesterday by coastal scientist Leonard Bahr on his blog, LACoastPost.

Bahr, a former researcher at Louisiana State University, spent 18 years in the governor's office, advising five administrations on their coastal policy.

"There have been a number of plans over 20 years to save the coast," he said. "But after Katrina, it morphed into 'coastal protection,' which gives me pause."

The crucial difference is that within the Jindal administration, coastal policy has been cast as a war between man and the sea. Plans have been devised to build massive levees and other earthworks to defend the Mississippi River delta and its marshes from the Gulf of Mexico.

The trouble is, building such ramparts could choke off the marshes by impeding the natural ebb and flow of the tides. Fish and wildlife may not be able to access the fertile estuaries, which they use as breeding ground. And the whole delta is sinking anyway (while sea level rises), making it just a matter of time before the levees are over-topped by a strong storm.

"Building what they call 'the Louisiana wall' makes sense at first, but the science doesn't support it," Bahr said. "The science should be leading this issue, but it isn't. It never has."

Unfortunately, the berms project has charged ahead in this vein, seeking to build (and spend hundreds of millions of dollars) first, and ask questions later.

Bahr said that the man who took these pictures wished to remain nameless, fearing retribution from the governor's office. All he would say is that the photographer is a reputable source and an employee with a federal agency.

By last Wednesday, when the above picture was taken, the island appeared heavily eroded, and waves were breaking on submerged construction equipment.

"I don't think this kind of program is ever going to successfully keep oil out of the marshes," Bahr said.

On his website, Bahr publicly predicted the berms would be washed away by the end of the hurricane season, Nov. 30. If the type of erosion depicted in these images keeps up, that may prove to have been a conservative estimate.

Images: LACoastPost