ON BARATARIA BAY, La. — The pelican was shaking, covered in oil, waiting to die and not alone. It was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of its species, brown pelicans roosting on a small island in the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico amid an ecological disaster.
Many of these brown pelicans — Louisiana's state birds — are likely doomed, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal fears that his state's wetlands will soon suffer equally. Locked in a dispute with the federal government over how to protect Louisiana's labyrinth of wetlands, Jindal and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries ferried a herd of national reporters to Barataria Bay on Sunday to document firsthand the devastating effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was a depressing scene. According to Jindal, approximately 65 miles of Louisiana's coast had been "oiled" by Sunday.
"We're under attack here," Jindal said. "We've got to protect our coast."
On Sunday, two natural rookeries, nesting grounds for brown pelicans, showed signs that heavy crude oil had broken through booms and soiled these fragile landmasses. The rookeries were located in Barataria Bay, about 14 miles west of Venice, La., between Cat Island and Four Bayou Pass.
Some pelicans frantically brushed oily feathers with their bills while others, full coated in black ooze, simply stood and quivered, as if in shock from the oil's toxicity.
"They're trying to fly away but they can't because they're covered in oil," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, the southern-most parish in Louisiana. "We're begging for help."
At question is an emergency permit applied for by Louisiana to protect its coastline, a request that includes dredging sediment to create barrier islands between oil and wetlands. Louisiana's emergency proposal was denied on Saturday by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is unsure of the environmental impact of emergency barriers.
Oil reached at least 12 miles into Louisiana's wetlands on Sunday, according to officials, and that seems to be just the beginning of a long fight for this state. The heavy crude that was in Barataria Bay on Saturday had moved with the tides by Sunday but would return, Jindal said, when tidal waters shifted, essentially coating the pelicans' rookeries from the opposite side.
With the crude oil still pouring into the gulf, President Barack Obama is sending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano back into the region today. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson was headed Sunday to Louisiana, where she planned to visit with frustrated residents.
In a toughly worded warning to BP on Sunday, Salazar said at a news conference outside the company's headquarters in Houston, "If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately."
BP officials said Sunday that one of their efforts to slow the leak wasn't working as effectively as before. BP spokesman John Curry told the Associated Press that a mile-long tube inserted into the leaking well siphoned some 57,120 gallons of oil within the past 24 hours, a sharp drop from the 92,400 gallons of oil a day that the device was sucking up on Friday. However, the company has said the amount of oil siphoned will vary widely from day to day.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also told CBS's Face the Nation that Justice Department officials have been to the region gathering information about the spill. However, he wouldn't say whether the department has opened a criminal investigation.
Information from the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.