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“There’s Pods of Dead Dolphins Everywhere”

8:57 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by marymccurnin

I follow New Orleans Ladder to stay abreast of the BP Tragedy. There I found the newest youtube of Kindra Arnesen.

Kindra Arnesen is a Gulf Coast resident who has been actively fighting BP and trying to keep people informed about what is happening and not happening. I have been watching her since last May when BP started their massive kill of the northern Gulf of Mexico.  She does not look well in this video. She has been hospitalized once with infected lesions. The two women that work with her were hospitalized at the same time with chemical pneumonitis. I am concerned for Kindra. I am concerned for our planet. Have we really forgotten so soon?

Please watch.

These Heroes Among Us

11:44 am in Art, banality of evil, BP oil disaster, Energy, jerks by marymccurnin

There are many, many people working to either save the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem or trying to get the images and message out about it. We all know that we cannot rely on our own government, MSM or British Petroleum to tell us the truth. The powerful cannot overcome the good. Right now it just seems that way. With photographers like Nick Zantop and Jerry Moran_Native New Orleans Photography and organizations like the American Birding Association and On Wings of Care willing to take risks and get dirty there is hope for the gulf and us.

This post is a small acknowledgement of the efforts of these amazing and diligent folk. Having spent time in Grand Isle, LA and experienced the worst environmental disaster in America’s history I am in awe of their dedication and continued energy.

This is a video of Nick’s photography of Grand Isle.

Graveyard of the Gulf – Grand Isle, Louisiana from Nick Zantop.

Here is an excerpt from Nick’s diary, Black Death, of the BP Tragedy.

The rocks along the pass continued to the north and I followed them. I felt as if I must surely have been somewhere that BP would not want anyone to see, but as an atv zoomed past me heading west its rider waved. With the lone rider past me and not a single soul in front of me, my racing heartbeat began to slow. Before long, my senses were overwhelmed by the unmistakable scent of death. I began to notice bones and bodies on and between the rocks, those of birds and fish. On a large rock, two young seagull chicks were baked into a pile of decaying skin and feathers. They were recent victims, perhaps only dead for a day. A few feet away, the large bones of a brown pelican and its oil stained feathers lay between rocks spotted with oil. Brown pelicans were just taken off the US federal endangered and threatened species list in November of last year. Just beyond the rocks, the beach began to open up, formed by sand that washes through the pass and collects along the rocks. This beach was completely drenched with crude oil and it looked as if a cleanup crew had never set foot there.

Here is a quote from Jerry Moran’s Journal about his travels and experiences with the "spill".

Yesterday is a day I will not forget anytime soon. I took a boat trip to Raccoon Island, which is about 20 miles south of Cocodrie, with a photog friend of mine Andy Levin. While covering the BP Oil Spill, Disaster, whatever they want to call it, from Venice to Fouchon over the past two months I have seen a lot of s…tuff, but nothing really prepared me for what I saw yesterday……..It is my impression that the farther away the oil has hit, the less attention it gets from BP. Raccoon Island is the largest Pelican Rookery in Louisiana, much larger that Queen Bess in Grand Isle or Cat Island. I have never been on the 2 islands in Grand Isle, but have wondered many times what was on them, besides the dead animals you could see from the boom, or the oiled garbage left on the shores by BP. Something else I have noticed at the Grand Isle rookeries on three visits over a 6 week period is that the population of the birds is declining steadily, specifically on my trip last week when a guesstimate would be a 60 to 70 % decline in mostly adults, leaving the young to fend for themselves in the oil and corexit infested waters. Some of my questions were answered yesterday on Racoon island, where death is everywhere and I mean everywhere, even though visible oil is much less an issue, which concerns me greatly. A lot of the birds that weren’t dead, were obviously poisoned, almost acting drunk and dazed. Some were hardly walking, and some were alive, but lying where they will surely expire, some were actually fighting each other for food(surely contaminated)…….It is really hard for me to believe that nothing can be done to curb what is no less than the extermination of our beloved state bird, along with thousands of other birds and animals. There are not many times where I have just stopped shooting and left….yesterday was one of those day’s.

And here are some examples of Jerry’s photography.

Images from The Gulf Coastcopyright 2005-2010

Thanks to all of the people who brave BP and toxins and our government to bring us the facts..

UPDATE from Nick Zantop concerning the work being done by the National Guard on the Gulf Coast.

The guard troops were some of the only people I saw who were consistently putting in 110% to everything.
They have airlifted tens of millions of pounds of sandbags to create a barrier against the oil (unfortunately this isn’t proving to be as effective as hoped, as it seems that oil is still able to slip through many of these areas) and on Grand Isle alone they completed an 8.2 mile long stretch of inflatable, water-filled Tiger Dam to keep oil from migrating farther up the beach. If only everyone else involved was able to move as efficiently as the Guard.

Grand Isle and the Illusion of Health

12:31 pm in BP oil disaster, Uncategorized by marymccurnin

Booms on Grand Isle Beach

As I step from the airplane onto the accordian walkway I bump into a wall of heat and humidity that I had forgotten existed. July in New Orleans is not hospitable. The thick weather was created for flying cockroaches and alligators not modern, whimpy humans.

I am in town for a week to visit with my family and am curious to see if there was evidence of the BP tragedy in my hometown. What I do find is very interesting and consistent with a place that lives with the tangible possibility of danger and excitement on a seasonal basis. The two seasons that come to mind are hurricane and Mardi Gras.

In Sacramento where I live the oil "spill" is a persistent topic of conversation. My neighbors talk about it. Commentors and posters on FDL write about it. I have to admit to be obsessed by it.

But in New Orleans I find that the disaster is not the first thing to be discussed. New Orleanians have adapted to the possibility of high water either from the river or the coast since its founding in 1718. People are still trying to overcome the physical and mental stress of Katrina. Perhaps since neighborhoods and business districts have not yet been marked by oil there is no sense of urgency. And New Orleans has never been known for its sense of urgency. It also seems unfair that a people should have to absorb so much negative information.

On Saturday my friend, Sydney (name changed to provide anonymity) and I go to Grand Isle. Sydney has been going there for years to fish and hang out with compatriots. It takes two hours to drive there. The land is flat. Then it gets flatter. Then it becomes water. There are rows on the horizon of dead oaks where the salt water has eroded inland. It has been a wet summer and the Mississippi river has pushed water into the last places that can hold it. The ride is green, blue and white; vegetation, sky and clouds.

Usually, this is the time of year when the little town would be filled with fishermen. They have been replaced with cleanup crews and security guards. The crews are kept herded together. They are dressed in white clothes, big straw hats, and black or yellow boots. They are bound together by a fraternity of sweat and a clear need for employment. The guards wear clean, perfect British Petroleum t-shirts with security badges. You can tell everyone is waiting for the day to be over. It is 91 degrees and the heat index is at 105.

The first beach we see is clean. There are rows of orange, water filled booms about fifty feet from the gulf. Tracks from a bulldozer persist up and down the entire beach. Way in the distance to the east you can see people slowly bending and shoveling. I climb over the booms and land on the lower part of the beach. I am hit with a sudden odor of oil. This smell lives close to the sand and is pungent.

I keep thinking "Where is the death and destruction? I don’t see any damn oil!"

Sydney takes me to the mangroves in the wetlands. The water is murky but it often is. Big swirls are evidence of red fish. Herons hang on the mangroves hunched over waiting for a meal.

We make our way to Grand Isle State Park and Pier. British Petroleum has a huge compound there to feed the workers. There are three large white tents filled with mostly men eating their lunches. The tents are air conditioned.

We meet Giada Connestari, a photographer and Emanuele Bompan, a reporter. Both are from Italy. The four of us walk through the tents and onto the pier. Sydney asks me later if I had heard all of the coughing in the tents. I had not. I was mostly taking in the air conditioning and watching people suck down sandwiches and soft drinks.

At all entrances and exits to beaches and parking lots the ubiquitous BP guards are on patrol. You can tell they had been schooled on smiles and p.r. They are now pretending the beaches belong to the public until they are told otherwise. I also notice that most of the cleanup crew is black. Most of the security guards are not. It reminds me of chain gangs I saw as a very small child but without the strain of unadulterated repression running through it.

We walk down the pier to the gulf. Brown pelicans dive after invisible fish. A shark swims looking for prey. We talk to people investigating or vacationing. Everyone is dismayed that things look so good. Emanuele Bompan who is also a cartographer explains that the beaches had just been cleaned and that oil is expected to be back that night. He also tells us that size of the land mass relative to the size of the spill means that things will seem normal in a lot of areas. This is particularly true since most of the oil is still at the bottom of the gulf or mingling with Corexit to form a more toxic soup. Damn dispersants. The chemical gives an illusion of health where there is none.

Photos Dating From June 1 Through July 10, 2010

Sydney and I are tired and hungry. We leave the beach and drive back into Grand Isle to find a restaurant. We don’t get to see one another very often and have an intentionally leisurely meal. We eat shrimp and sausage gumbo. Sydney has a crab meat poboy. I have a BLT. It is one of the most satisfying meals I have had in a long time.

On the plane ride back to California I sit next to a young man heading towards Portland. He is a helicopter mechanic and has been working on the spill. The company who employs him has been dropping sand bags in front of wetlands to try and protect them from the corruption they will certainly endure. He tells me that the camp in Venice, La where he and eight of his fellow workers have been living was just rented out for $2400 a night (24 beds) for the next year by the Louisiana Department of Fish and Game. This comes to a total of $876,000 for the year. At least one family on the coast of Louisiana will be secure for a good long while.

*Below are photographs of Grand Isle taken in the 1920′s and 1930′s by Fonville Winans. He is well known in Louisiana. He also took a portrait of my family in 1958 when I was eight years old.


1930 Photographs by Fonville Winans