Workers making progress on cleaning barrier islands

HORN ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Workers hired to remove oil from Mississippi's barrier islands have faced multiple challenges since that clean-up operation began a year ago. Right now, the island workforce has been scaled back to lessen the disturbance of birds during the nesting season.

They've spent months walking the beaches on Horn Island: Dozens of workers searching the sand with tools and buckets.

"The hand crews are manually picking up the tar balls, sifting through, put it in buckets. It goes from there to super sacks. And we relay the super sacks off the island with our landing craft boats," said Steve Mangum, who supervises the barrier island clean-ups.

He made the comments while the clean-up crews were still at full force on Horn Island.

Unlike similar work along the mainland beaches, clean-up crews are more restricted when it comes to the barrier islands.

Mike Utsler oversees BP's gulf coast clean up.

"In the National Park Services area, we're more limited to the depth we can clean and have to be very careful and we're guided by the scientists and the National Park Service on the depths and methods by which we use to clean," he explained.

Removing all the oil from these barrier islands is a bit like chasing a moving target. Because as soon as one section of beach is cleaned, the dynamics of wind and waves take over, shifting sand to reveal new sections of tar balls and oil patties.

Wildlife and habitat also limit clean-up operations.  Nesting season means fewer workers, so as not to disturb the birds.

"My job here is to protect the park's resources. So you'll see the sand dunes. Spring has sprung and the vegetation is coming up.  You'll see vines and different kinds of plants growing up on the dunes, coming down on the beach. So, I'm here to make sure the clean-up crews stay out of those areas," said Julia Swanson, who works as a resource officer for the National Park Service.

Louis Skrmetta looks forward to a promising summer after Ship Island Excursions recently brought some 500 visitors to the island on opening day.

Despite this island being relatively "oil free" for now, he still worries.

"I still have concerns about long term impacts of the oil. There's just too much of it still out there. Common sense tells you when you have 200 million gallons of oil this close to the barrier islands of Mississippi, that you're going to have some residuals, some effects from it," said Skrmetta.

He also worries about hurricane season, fearing a storm could push more oily mess onto the islands.

Workers have removed around four million pounds of oil and tar balls from the islands since the clean-up began.

Some oil in the more sensitive areas of the islands is being left alone.

The park service determined that attempting to remove oil from areas like the ponds on Horn Island may cause more harm than good.

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