Thousands of dead swamp rats from Louisiana are washing up on the beaches of Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac. Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality estimates over 20,000 carcasses have been washed up.
Workers have been dispatched to clean up the beaches and they are hoping to finish the work before a popular tourist event begins. USA Today reports County Representative Kim Savant, said: “We have an event called Cruisin’ the Coast the second week of October with 30,000 to 40,000 people on the beach, and we didn't want to wait."
NBC reports that ecologists say the loss of the rats is an ecological benefit. The rats are an invasive species introduced by fur trappers in the 1930s. The population was kept under control while fur prices were high, but a drop in fur prices in the 1980s led to a collapse of the industry and the swamp rat population subsequently grew to several millions. The Mississippi Department of Environment Quality says the species are now one of the Gulf South’s most notorious invasive species, causing ecological damage on "native wetland vegetation and contributing to coastal erosion problems."
According to the Sun Herald, the rats are a South American breed also called nutria. They are large, semi-aquatic and the females are able to reproduce three times a year and produce a litter of 13 offspring at once. Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality says they reach sexual maturity at four months old and the females may breed within only 48 hours of giving birth to a litter.
NBC reports more rats continue to wash up the shores and the clean-up effort may take days to complete. Reports say the work is very unpleasant. Federal contractors with experience in disposal of hazardous waste joined in the clean-up but many of their workers have quit. The Inquisitr reports:
"The cleanup has been so horrid that more than half-dozen workers walked off their job sites on Sunday morning. In a sickening moment for workers, the swamp rats have begun to bust open at the gut as they decompose on the beaches. In past cleanup efforts following hurricanes, other workers have walked off job sites in Mississippi for similar reasons."
The Sun Herald reports Hancock County Supervisor David Yarborough, said: "As they're picking them up, they're busting open...There's people who can't take the sight of something like this. That's the reason I wouldn't even attempt this with county people. You really should be certified and trained in hazardous waste."
WLOX.com reports Mayor David Garcia of Waveland Mississippi, said: “If you're out here, it’s a terrible smell. As this heat continues, they’re just going to blow up and pop, making it even more of a health hazard.” According to the Global Post, Hurricane Isaac also washed up hogs, deer, coyotes, snakes and rabbits.