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Tar Balls, Oily Pelicans Found in Isaac's Wake

Hurricane Isaac satellite picture.
A satellite image of Isaac captured at 1:35 CT on Tuesday, Aug. 28. (Image credit: NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite. )

Environmental officials in Louisiana are facing a pollution problem in the wake of Hurricane Isaac after they found tar balls on beaches and oil-covered birds along the coast.

A large mat of oil and blobs of tar prompted local authorities to close a 12-mile (19-km) stretch of coastline on Elmer's Island, a barrier beach about 50 miles (80 km) south of New Orleans. Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Tuesday announced all commercial and recreational fishing (with some exceptions for angling) was prohibited in waters up to a mile away from the shore in that area.

Some nearby coastal waters already had been closed to fishing due to continuing fallout from the 2010 BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill. Officials said an investigation will determine the source of the oil that has recently washed ashore.

A spokesperson for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said officials also found three live oil-drenched birds (two brown pelicans and one black vulture) as well as four dead ones (one black vulture, one brown pelican, one clapper rail and one common moorhen) on an abandoned platform near Myrtle Grove in Plaquemines Parish earlier this week.

They weren't the only animals affected by the storm. Hurricane Isaac washed ashore tens of thousands of dead "swamp rats" in the Gulf. The beaver-like invasive species known as nutria wreck havoc on native marsh vegetation, so the drownings actually might be a blessing — albeit a messy one — for the region.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.