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FALL 2010
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Images from the Gulf

A team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology spent seven weeks in the Gulf Coast region documenting the effects of the Deep Water Horizon oil disaster.

Photography by Benjamin Clock


A multimedia production team and science writer from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology returned from a seven-week trip to the Gulf Coast on July 20. They traveled through a lacework of islands, bayous and saltmarshes along the coast of Louisiana to document how birds were coping during the Gulf oil catastrophe.

Some fared better than others. Pelicans, egrets, spoonbills, ibises, and herons who nested high among the broad leathery mangrove leaves appeared clean, but in many cases, birds down at the water’s edge were oiled. On an island in Bay Ronquille, the team described seeing dozens of spoonbill chicks that were tinged bronzy orange rather than pink, and young Black-crowned Night-Herons that were so stained that all but their yellow eyes vanished among the mangrove roots.

After Grande Terre Island was hit with heavy oil in early June, photographer Benjamin Clock, who is also a seasoned field biologist, described what he had seen: “The oil on the beach had weathered and a whole bunch of it was buried by the tide—but that was the least dramatic part. The most dramatic part was seeing Sandwich and Royal terns of all ages, everything from fledged chicks to downy chicks, some heavily oiled on their crests and their wings, others with dollops on their wings or a single dollop on the belly.”

Luckily, the team also saw many areas of saltmarsh and island that had been spared, including Breton Island, where enormous concentrations of terns, gulls, pelicans, herons and other species were still hard at work raising their young.

For additional photos and detailed accounts of what the team encountered, visit the Round Robin blog or the Lab of Ornithology’s Oil Spill Recovery site.