Fine money from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill pays to restore a Louisiana island

Queen Bess, the third largest nesting area for brown pelicans, comes back to life

Queen Bess Bird Habitat

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A couple miles north of Grand Isle, crews are finishing work an $18.7 million dollar repair job.

Queen Bess Island, the third largest nesting area for Louisiana brown pelicans, is the beneficiary along with several thousand birds that should descend on the island for nesting season.

Ten years ago, the island was ground zero during the BP oil spill, as crude moved into Barataria Bay, coating pelicans pelicans and other bird species.

“I was here," said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle. "It was terrible to see the pelicans full of oil.”

However, Queen Bess was in trouble long before the spill.

Erosion and subsidence had steadily reduced the island’s footprint from over 35 acres down to 5.

Since last September, contractors have been pumping dredge material and moving limestone to restore the island to something closer to its original footprint.

The money flowed through NRDA, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a pot of BP money designated by law for restoration efforts.

Mississippi River sand dredged from a site near Belle Chasse has been barged to Queen Bess and piped onto the island, the equivalent of more than 40 football fields or instant land.

Monday, Governor John Bel Edwards joined in a Grand Re-opening, symbolically spreading nesting material on the island.

“This is just an impressive project if you just look around and realize just a few months ago we would not have been able to have this conversation here,” Edwards said.

From the moment crews started work on the project, they were on the clock.

The work began after most of the pelicans departed the island last September and must be complete before the birds’ anticipated return in a few weeks.

Once on the verge of extinction, brown pelicans represent one of conservation’s great success stories.

Yet in Louisiana, as the coast and barrier islands disappear, the birds are steadily losing real estate.

“There’s not very many brown pelican colonies left in Louisiana,” said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "So, to invest in one of the few we have left is huge.”

Once the construction is complete, experts say the birds should begin flocking back to Queen Bess.

“So now that they’ve been invited, we know the birds are going to come back," Edwards said.

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