So how bad is it?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Regarding my trip to the Gulf coast, many people have asked, "So how bad is it?" My answer is: It is worse than I thought it would be and better than I thought it would be. What does that mean? I thought "tar balls" were big, black balls of tar that would look like black balloons floating in on the ocean. So when I noticed small, piles of what appeared to be animal waste, I was surprised. But on the beaches we visited, in Alabama and Florida, the piles littered the area. When I picked one up and smelled it, yes, it smelled like oil.

Some parents were letting their children into the surf near piles of oil.  In my opinion, that's a bad idea.  While there were parts of the beach that looked very clean, I'm still concerned with what's going on beneath the surface.  In Alabama, the Governor asked people to go into the water at their own discretion.  In Pensacola Beach, Florida, the message was much different.  The Coast Guard was making rounds to the media asking us to tell people to stay out of the water and not walk on the beach with bare feet.

While we were in Gulf Shores, a concerned woman stopped us on the beach and said 2 lifeguards had just pulled a dead shark from the water.  We found them waiting for Alabama state biologists to assess the shark.  It had a hook in it's mouth but it would undergo tests to find out if the oil spill contributed to it's death.

If the oil is reaching all the way to the shore and piling up in little oil-covered sand clumps, I can only imagine what the situation is like under the surface of the ocean. I was also shocked to see only a handful (maybe 6) seagulls during the entire trip. There were a few pelicans that would swoop over the ocean but the birds have moved on. That, to me, was a bad sign.

We started our trip in Chauvin, Louisiana near the marsh land.  The Coast Guard allowed us to go out on air boats to view the cleanup.  While the area appeared to be relatively clean, crews were putting booms into the water along the grassline to try to keep oil out of the habitats of birds, oysters, shrimp and others.

BP is in there working.  There's no doubt about it.  I think the company is genuinely trying to stop the bleeding. There were cleanup crews along the beaches every morning while we were there and in bad areas (more oily debris than others) crews worked all day. 

In Florida, workers scooped oily water off the shore line and dumped that into plastic bags.  They made piles of plastic bags and forklifts would cart off the piles.  I question how long this type of tedious work can go on. 

I visited one of the BP Claims offices in Orange Beach, Alabama and people were standing in the rain waiting for an appointment.  I can't even imagine how many people are out of work and that's just in one coastal city.  The bar tenders, restaurant workers and hotel cleaners are making absolutely no money because people aren't there on vacation.  The shrimpers have nothing and cannot get another job because some can barely read and write.  Gulf Shores was a ghost town while we were there.  That was shocking.  Parking lots were empty and it was June.  The beaches should have been full.  Sadly, this disaster is much worse than people realize.  It will take years of cleanup, not months.

I found this bumper sticker on the wall of a restaurant that summed up some people's frustration:

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