The wetlands here in Louisiana look typical, with nothing unnatural about the appearance of the water or the browning of the mid-winter marsh grass. But with minimal effort it is easy to shatter the sense of normalcy of both of these sights.
Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to accompany Cpt. Al Walker of the Gulf Coast Charter Captain Alliance, and Tracy Palmisano of Gulf Coast Marine Recovery into some of their favorite fishing grounds. Along the shoreline of a small island in the southeast corner of Barataria Bay, Al dug the prop of his outboard motor into the shallow water and quickly stirred up a thick cloud of sediment from the bottom. Killing the engine and slipping on a pair of nitrile gloves, Al reaches overboard into the murky water and rubs his fingers together amongst the particulate dislodged from the bay. Within seconds it is clear that this is not ordinary mud. Al’s hands are quickly coated in a thick black tar-like goo, as shown in the above picture.
“Oil” he says, “I could do this all day. It’s everywhere. I keep hoping one of these times I do this and its not there anymore. But it’s not going anywhere.”
As if that wasn’t shocking enough, we left the boat and walked on shore to be greeted by another alarming sight not 20 feet from the shoreline. Piles of oil-soaked absorbent boom and pom-poms littering the fragile marsh. Difficult to see from the water, this contaminated boom and pom-pom stretch endlessly into the distance effectively concealed by grass that has grown up around it since its abandonment mid-summer.
“This has been here since June.” Tracy comments, adding that he and Cpt. Al have personally reported it numerous times.
It has been quite some time since boom has been deployed around the perimeter of this island, and there was no evidence to suggest that anyone was working to address the oiled material that has been left here. The oil under the water, the oily waste in the marsh grass, it’s a horrifying depiction of “out of sight, out of mind.”
A large, seemingly fresh tar-patty close by seemed to suggest the monumental effort to protect our coast line has lost focus a bit too soon – and overlooked a few possibly disastrous loose ends. Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, was on hand to collect water, sediment, and biota samples to get a clearer picture of the state of this neglected ecosystem.
Al, Tracy, Paul, Mike and I want nothing more than to be able to say confidently that the oil is gone, the marshes are clean, the ecosystem is thriving. But so far, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Since the beginning of this disaster, Al and Tracy have been volunteering in every way possible to assist in protecting and restoring the gulf. Even going so far as to seek out current technologies capable of addressing the unique challenges. It is apparent, especially in light of today’s observations, that the clean up has not been sufficient. In addition to the remaining oil, it is also disconcerting that the devices deployed to combat the destruction of our coastal estuaries have been left behind bathed in the contaminants they were designed to remove. They have been left behind to scar the precious terrain that they were intended to save.
On behalf of LEAN, LMRK, and everyone else who loves the gulf coast, this disaster isn’t over and not following through in cleaning it up is not an option.
To report the presence of oiled waste left in our delicate environment to the Unified Command contact 1 (866) 448-5816 or (281) 366-5511.