A population explosion is about to come to Louisiana’s Queen Bess

Island rebuilt with 2010 Gulf oil spill money

Queen Bess Island Update

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - On a remote Louisiana island, the first brown pelican eggs have hatched this year.

It marks an especially important new generation on Queen Bess, since the island a few miles north of Grand Isle was recently restored.

The $10 million flowed from fines and settlements associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

By law, NRDA money must be spent on restoration of the environment.

"I would say these birds were born within the last few hours," said Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Todd Baker as he looked over the island Thursday.

Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island (Source: John Snell)
Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island (Source: John Snell)
Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Brown pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island (Source: John Snell)

Baker estimated roughly five thousand pelicans are nesting here, waiting on a population explosion in coming days and weeks.

"It never gets old to come up and see the new nesting season kicking off."

There was no guarantee this scene would play out in this way when contractors began pumping dredge material onto Queen Bess last September.

Ten years ago, Queen Bess was heavily impacted by the BP oil spill, as crude flowed onto the island at the height of nesting season.

However, like many other parts of Louisiana's coast, the island was sinking and eroding long before the Macondo well blew on April 20, 2010.

From the moment they began, crews were racing the calendar to complete the project in February, just before most of the birds returned from their short migration north to areas closer to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Contractors filled in most of the island, increasing its footprint from five to roughly 36 acres.

Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Todd Baker checks on nests on Queen Bess Island
Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Todd Baker checks on nests on Queen Bess Island (Source: John Snell)
Pelicans fly above Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Pelicans fly above Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Pelicans on Louisiana's Queen Bess Island
Splish Splash-- a pelican on Queen Bess Island
Splish Splash-- a pelican on Queen Bess Island

The brown pelican is often cited as one of conservation's great success stories, brought back from the brink of extinction 50 years ago.

However, most of the small colonies in Louisiana suffer land loss or have disappeared entirely.

“These large colonies are critical if we want to continue to see brown pelicans in Louisiana,” Baker said.

Biologists thought it would take a year or two for the birds to adapt to the new surroundings.

“I can easily say what we’re seeing here today has exceeded our expectation. We didn’t expect this strong a response from the birds in year one.”

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