Gulf Coast marine scientists agree that the unfolding oil disaster could mean devastation beyond human comprehension.
"It would go beyond just the Gulf of Mexico. If it gets entrained into the Loop [Current], it's up into the Atlantic. And who knows where it's going to go from there. As it moves around Florida, the next or another critical area would be the Florida Keys and the coral reefs we have down there. I don't even want to think about that area being covered in oil. Once it works its way up the East Coast and potentially crossing the Atlantic, it could be far-reaching," said Dr. Jeff Hoffmayer, a shark specialist with the Center for Fisheries Research and Development.
"The magnitude and the potential for ecological damage is probably more ...than anything we've ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico," said Nancy Rabalais, a scientist who heads the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, a research center in Cocodrie, La. "Once it hits the shoreline, it'll get into everything."
Orange-colored oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has washed up on the western side of North Island, the northernmost sliver of the Chandeleur and Breton Island chain.
Among the animals that live along the Gulf Coast, this is the time for hatching and rearing: Species as diverse as pelicans, shrimp and alligators are all reproducing, or preparing to. That could bring sensitive young animals in contact with toxic oil or cause their parents to plunge into oily waters looking for food.
Michael Parr of the American Bird Conservancy said "It's got to be about the worst time right now" for an oil spill to hit.
In south Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, fishermen were already seeing the oil as a thick, brown sludge, washing toward the town of Venice. "It's the chocolate mousse, that's the term they've been using," said Albert "Rusty" Gaudé, a state extension agent who works with fishermen there. He said it had left many fearful that crabs, oysters and shrimp -- part of a Louisiana industry that produces 10 percent of the country's seafood -- could be devastated.
Here is a satellite picture taken yesterday showing the spread of the oil across the Gulf.