The Big Easy escaped a direct stain from the oil disaster spreading across the Gulf Coast — until Monday.
Workers use nets to scoop small globs of oil from the water in Rigolets Pass, which connects the Gulf to Lake Pontchartrain.
That delicate balance changed when balls of tar were found in the Rigolets, one of two passes that connect Lake Pontchartrain with the Gulf of Mexico.
"So far it's scattered stuff showing up, mostly tar balls," said Office of Fisheries Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina. "It will pull out with the tide, and then show back up."
Pausina said he expected the oil to clear the passes and move directly into the lake, taking a back-door route to New Orleans.
Prevailing east winds since Hurricane Alex have steadily pushed the oil toward the city's eastern coastline along an arm of the Gulf. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries closed the area to fishing.
On Monday, 14 skimmers and four decontaminating units were working in the area, said Tammy Mitchell, spokeswoman for the joint information center in Houma.
"They were pulling out tar balls mostly," she said. By Monday night, 1,000 pounds had been picked up.