Mississippi Beaches: The Last Beautiful Day?

Mississippi coast, Memorial Day. The NOAA surface oil forecast is calling for the slick to come ashore on the Mississippi and Alabamba coasts sometime within the next 72 hours, so we head out that way today to see if anything was arriving early. And also to see just what is at stake when the oil does make landfall.

This is a place that knows all about bad landfalls.

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day, full of the poignancy of something so ephemeral, something likely to be gone soon. It was very quiet for a Memorial Day. People are staying home, we heard. People are staying away.

But not the birds. Where are they going to go? It’s the height of the nesting season for this mixed colony of least terns and black skimmers. 

Both species breed on sandy beaches and forage just offshore for small fish and invertebrates.

The skimmers make their living skimming the surface with their longer lower bill. A bad occupation in the company of oil.

The terns were working hard, foraging at sea and ferrying their catches back to their chicks. In the photo above you can just make out through the grass the two chicks cryptically nestled in the sand beneath the parent and the dinner he or she has brought home.

The spill hasn’t made landfall. Still, we wondered how many birds went out to fish today and didn’t make it back.

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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.