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The Nation

April 20, 2011

Day of remembrance: 1 year after Gulf oil disaster

(Continued)

NEW ORLEANS —

Many questions still linger: Will the fishing industry recover? Will the environment bounce back completely? Will an oil-hungry public ever accept more deepwater drilling?

"It seems like it is all gone," said Tyler Priest, an oil historian at the University of Houston. "People have turned their attention elsewhere. But it will play out like Exxon Valdez did. There will be 20 years of litigation."

Most scientists agree the effects "were not as severe as many had predicted," said Christopher D'Elia, dean at the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. "People had said this was an ecological Armageddon, and that did not come to pass."

Biologists are concerned about the spill's long-term effect on marine life.

"There are these cascading effects," D'Elia said. "It could be accumulation of toxins in the food chain, or changes in the food web. Some species might dominate."

Meanwhile, accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf, and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles of Louisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice that the land in many places is eroding.

For example, on Cat Island, a patch of land where pelicans and reddish egrets nest among the black mangroves, Associated Press photographs taken a year ago compared with those taken recently show visible loss of land and a lack of vegetation.

"Last year, those mangroves were healthy, dark green. This year they're not," said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Land is eroding on sites where the oil has killed vegetation, he said.

On a tour of the wetlands Tuesday, Robert Barham, Louisiana's wildlife secretary, showed reporters the lingering damage.

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