Defenders Magazine

Spring 2018

Volume 93, Issue 3


© Joel Sartore /

Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge was once a tiny island off the Louisiana coast that supported one of the largest bird-nesting grounds in the state for brown pelicans. At least 1,000 nested here. It was also an important rookery for roseate spoonbills, white ibises, least terns, wood storks and other species. Mississippi River floods reliably restocked the sloughs with fish, providing rich foraging habitat for wading birds and for the many birds that stopped for rest and sustenance during migrations. Mallards, green-winged teal and wigeons over-wintered here, and wood ducks and hooded mergansers were year-round residents. Water tupelo and bald cypress trees—some a century-old—provided cavities for bats to roost. The root system of eight-foot-tall mangroves literally held the island together. But when the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010, about a third of the 215 million gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico made its way to Cat Bay and engulfed the pristine island refuge. Birds were reported to be literally choking in oil. The spill laid waste to the mangroves, which shriveled and died. Within three years—with tar balls from the spill still washing ashore—the mangrove roots decayed, and much of the island quickly eroded into the sea. In 2016, the island officially disappeared.


Max Allen / Alamy Stock Photo
Extreme weather wallops wildlife
Illustration Credit: Courtesy of Stewardship Partners
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© Lon (LA) Yarbrough
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© James D. Watt/
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