Louisiana’s coastal marshes were gradually losing their ability to support waterfowl long before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the oil is only going to make things worse, according to the results of a study released today.

From this press release from Ducks Unlimited:
Gulf Coast Joint Venture (GCJV) scientists recently completed analyses demonstrating that the massive losses of coastal wetlands during the past half-century have reduced the capacity of Gulf Coast marshes to support wintering waterfowl. Potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to marsh vegetation and food production mean waterfowl may encounter even greater food shortages when they arrive on the Gulf Coast later this year. __

“We’ve known for years that coastal habitat loss and degradation have been slowly reducing the Gulf Coast’s capacity to support wintering waterfowl,” said Dr. Mike Brasher, GCJV biological team leader. “However, no study had quantified the consequences of coastal marsh loss to waterfowl food availability.” This study estimated the amount of habitat required to support winter waterfowl population objectives and compared that to the available habitat. “Basically, we asked how many acres of marsh it takes to feed a desired number of waterfowl, then compared that to what is presently on the landscape,” said Dr. Brasher.

The study area included coastal marshes from Mobile Bay, Ala., to Corpus Christi, Texas. Scientists used a measure called duck-energy-days (the dietary energy needed to sustain a single duck for a single day) to estimate how much food would be required to support population goals set forth by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Their calculations revealed that under the assumption of a 150-day winter period, coastal marshes in these areas satisfy energy demands of 2.9 million fewer ducks and geese than what they likely did during the 1970s. In southeast Louisiana alone, coastal marsh food resources may support 1.3 million fewer waterfowl than what is targeted by GCJV population objectives.

And that was before the oil. Sometimes – in the face of a constant and ever-expanding plume of grim news – it’s hard not to let despair set in. When the hell will this nightmare end?