As Bayou fishermen in Louisiana, Kindra Arnesen and her family have faced many challenges that have changed their lives in recent years.
First came Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 monster storm that devastated its small fishing community in the parish of Plaquemines before roaring the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people and destroying $ 125 billion worth of properties. Five years later, BP's Deepwater Horizon drill exploded 40 miles offshore. spitting nearly 200 million gallons of crude. The fishery was not fully restored more than nine years later, no more than his family.
But this year can be worse. A slow and polluted historic flood of polluted Mississippi waters loaded with chemicals, pesticides and human wastes from 31 states and two Canadian provinces flows directly into marshes and bayous Gulf of Mexico-The nurseries in the Arnesen fishing areas upset the delicate balance of salinity and destroy the fragile ecosystem. As the Gulf waters get warmer this summer, the algae feed on the freshwater drink, stifling marine life for lack of oxygen.
And as of Wednesday, an imminent storm is likely to turn into a tropical storm or hurricane by the weekend, with the potential to bring torrential downpours and more freshwater floods.
Fishermen and US government officials agree that this long and hot summer can remain in history as one of the most destructive years for Gulf fisheries. The stream of river water flowing into the Gulf estuaries decimates the populations of crabs, oysters and shrimp. The brown shrimp catches this spring in Louisiana and Mississippi have already been reduced by 80%, and oysters are completely wiped out in some of the country's most productive fishing areas, according to state and local officials. from the industry. The polluted fresh waters also caused the proliferation of algae, which resulted in the closure of Mississippi beaches.
"The Corps of Army Engineers says we have had the most rainfall in 124 years," said Joe Spraggins, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. "Shrimpers and crabbers are struggling, oysters are almost non-existent … It's not going to get better soon."
"Adult men called me on the phone and cried," said Arnesen, a board member of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, who works on coastal zone management issues in the United States. State. "It sounds like the height of the BP oil spill."
Mississippi and Louisiana have already begun the process of applying for federal disaster assistance for damaged fisheries. But it will probably be a long time before any money reaches the fishermen whose nets are empty. To formally request disaster relief, Louisiana state officials said they needed more data, which would take several months to compile.
"We are observing all areas of fishing communities on the other side of the coast," said Patrick Banks, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department. "We will continue to collect data to support a claim."
It's not just the fisheries that are suffering. Dolphins are dying in large numbers in the region – nearly 300 this year already, three times more than in a normal year, according to federal officials and states. Fishermen report finding dead dolphins floating in the water near the coast or stranded in swamps, covered with painful skin lesions that scientists have associated with exposure to freshwater. A fisherman said he found a dolphin mother pushing her dead baby into the water.
"Their skin looks like a shine buffer," said George Ricks, captain of the charter boat at the Louisiana, which runs the Save Louisiana Coalition, a coastline advocacy organization.
Ricks and many other fishermen blame the unprecedented deluge of freshwater flowing into the Gulf. The Carre Cap, a huge spillway that protects New Orleans, has already opened twice without precedent This year, the waters of the Mississippi are fun and are currently running over 100,000 cubic feet per second in Lake Pontchartrain. The ability to close the spillway depends on rainfall upstream.
The Army Corps of Engineers operates the spillway and says it has no choice but to keep it open to protect upstream assets. The Corps says that part of these floods is beneficial to the ecosystem. "The introduction of freshwater leaks simulates the natural cycle of surface flooding and provides many ecosystem benefits to aquatic and terrestrial resources in the spillway," notes the agency on its website.
Some marine biologists believe, however, that freshwater floods can be catastrophic for species such as bottlenose dolphins, which are highly territorial and reluctant to leave their spawning grounds even when salinity levels become toxic. Endangered species such as Kemp turtles are also threatened by exposure to river water, as they depend on the rich marshlands of the Gulf for their growth and development.
"We are experiencing a category 5 aquatic hurricane," said Dr. Moby Solangi, director of the Mississippi Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. Dolphins are particularly vulnerable to incursions of river water, he said. "Whenever they open the Bonnet Carré spillway, we are seeing an outbreak of deaths."
The Solangi team recently discovered a dolphin stranded on a beach in Gulfport, breathing slowly and covered with freshwater lesions. He died shortly after.
"Dolphins are like the black box found in planes," Solangi said. "They tell you what's going on in the environment, when the dolphins are doing well, the environment is doing well."
By all accounts, the Gulf's marine environment is not doing well. Scientists predict that the annual dead zone of the giant drop of polluted deoxygenated water related to algal blooms will reach the size of Massachusetts and stifle even more marine life later in the Gulf this summer.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in February that the death of the bottlenose dolphin was an "unusual mortality event" and its investigation is ongoing. According to officials, strandings of dolphins higher than normal increased in May, while 88 others were found along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and the United States. Alabama. That's almost eight times the average monthly dolphin mortality during the BP spill between 2010 and 2014.
Total dolphin strandings were not reached at the peak of the BP spill, and were fewer in June. Dr. Teri Rowles, coordinator of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program at NOAA, said that he knew that freshwater could help solve health problems, but that ## 147 ## He was too early in his investigation to determine the exact cause.
"We see dolphins with freshwater lesions, but not all animals have skin lesions," said Rowles.
Some dolphin populations are still recovering from the BP oil spill, Rowles explained, mainly because of reproductive problems. NOAA reports that dolphins living in heavily oiled areas continue to suffer from chronic health problems and higher rates of failed pregnancies and mortality.
But many fishermen who have worked in these areas for generations suspect that a threat threatens their future: politics. As part of a plan to save the coastline that is rapidly declining in Louisiana, state agencies want to inject more sediment-laden river water to help with reconstruction. the endangered land. Fishermen are questioning the effectiveness of freshwater diversions and worry about the dangers these projects present for fishing and marine life. They wonder why NOAA would have granted exemptions to Louisiana last year to circumvent the Marine Mammal Protection Act and allow for the construction of the freshwater diversion.
Meanwhile, fishermen know that climate change is not good for them. Scientists say the Mississippi River is expected to continue to submerge in the years to come, as the atmosphere warms and produces stronger storms and more rain. Barry, the storm that is heading towards the coast, is the last to threaten the Gulf ecosystem, but certainly not the last.
All this worries Acy Cooper, a fourth-generation fisherman and president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, who is leading a fishing delegation to Washington this month to plead their case in the event of a disaster. He blamed the army for failing to properly manage the river, control and flirt the river flowing into the Gulf, compounding the effects of fresh water.
But his biggest concern is his family and future generations. I come from a long line of fishing families who have thrived and persevered in one of the most abundant fisheries in the world, and he does not want to be the last.
"My sons can not earn enough to feed their families," he said. "What will happen to them?"
Arnesen is also worried about this.
"If we continue to work that way, we will kill the estuaries and the oceans, but they send us back anyway," she said. "Our fish feed America, that should count for everyone."
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