CAT BAY, LA — As you pull up to the tiny specs of land in Cat Bay, LA the brown pelicans are breathtaking. On the islands in that bay, the Louisiana state bird is holding onto what little habitat it has left.
In 1930, just one of those islands measured 350 acres. Plaquemines Parish Director of Coastal Zone Management P.J. Hahn says the latest land survey put that same island at half an acre.
"This probably has less than a year, by the end of this year this island will probably be gone. There was another piece of island that was located right out here. It's gone already," says Hahn.
Each lap of water on the Cat Islands' shoreline is a threat to their existence. They've been slowly eroding for decades- a process that was put into overdrive by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Hahn says, "The oil kills the vegetation and the root system of the vegetation is what's keeping these islands together. Once that root system is dead, these islands just fall apart very quickly."
Before the spill, the islands were so dense with mangrove trees, you could hardly walk on them. Today those same trees are sparse and look more like bushes.
"You can look around and look at the dead mangroves. That's what we're going to have. When we lose this one, then you've gotta start fighting inland and at some point you gotta put a stop to it or we'll be building the great wall of St. Bernard across all of Southern Louisiana." That's Robert Garrity, the State Chairman for Ducks Unlimited, which is selling paintings based on photographs Hahn has taken on the islands. The goal is two-fold: to raise money and awareness.
This fall, Plaquemines Parish will use some of that money to begin restoration of the islands. It's a shot at life for the most vulnerable species on the coast.