"ON BARATARIA BAY, LA. -- In the Louisiana marsh, oil-coated pelicans flap their wings in a futile attempt to dry them. A shorebird repeatedly dunks its face in a puddle, unable to wash off. Lines of dead jellyfish float in the gulf, traces of oil visible in their clear 'bells.'
These scenes, scientists say, are confirmation of what they had feared for a month. Now that oil from the Gulf of Mexico's vast spill has come ashore -- in some places, as thick as soft fudge -- it is causing serious damage in one of the country's great natural nurseries.
In nature, oil is a versatile killer. It smothers the tiny animals that make up a coral reef. It suffocates blades of marsh grass, cutting them off from air and sunlight. It clumps up a bird's feathers, leaving it unable to fly; then, trying to remove the oil, birds swallow it.
For now, scientists are seeing the worst effects only in one corner of the Louisiana coast.
But they're concerned about what they're not seeing -- and worried that the impact on animals and plants will only get worse."