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The Victims of Louisiana’s Worsening Oil Spill

We are in the process of finishing a big, beautiful, provocative film about Southern Louisiana, focused on the relationship between man and the sea … so obviously when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, inflamed, sank and now continues to pump oil into the Gulf of Mexico we are watching with a vested interest. (In our film – Sola, Louisiana Water Stories – current Governor Bobby Jindal is on camera telling an interviewer that one of the “beauties” of Louisiana is that are no oil spills ….)

One of the conservation activists we profile in the film, Tracy Kuhns, is the Louisiana Bayoukeeper – affiliated with the international Waterkeeper Alliance – as well as running the Fishing Community Family Support Center. Her husband, Michael Roberts, is a fisherman and they live on Bayou Barataria where fishing is down for multiple reasons, one being the waste left behind by oil and gas explorations and takings going back many decades.

A shrimper on his way home at day's end, up Bayou Lafourche. Photo: Fiona Stewart

A shrimper on his way home at day's end, up Bayou Lafourche. Photo: Fiona Stewart

I asked her for her take on the still-growing oil spill in the Gulf, now spreading through Louisiana’s fertile fishing grounds (40 percent of the US.’s seafood comes from the Gulf of Mexico):

Tracy Kuhns: “As a resident of one of Louisiana’s many coastal fishing communities, I am very worried and saddened, right now, about the massive, on going, oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The media, government agencies and naturally, the environmental community seem so wrapped up with the oil they can see on the surface, it’s as if, that is all there is to the spill.  While dealing with what is seen on the surface if urgent and extremely important to minimizing damage to our estuaries, our fishermen know from experience, with inland and other offshore oil spills, that what is on the surface is nothing compared to what will cover the water bottom and can not be seen.  They know that after everyone proclaims the clean up to be complete and the fishermen go back fishing, their nets will come up covered in oil tar and that they will not be able to fish, in the area of the spill, for years to come.  A complete clean up never happens, so this oil spill is bound to have long term impacts on the Gulf of Mexico and Inland fisheries for years to come, (Approx. 90% of Gulf Marine Species spend some portion of their life cycle in our estuaries).  What will it take for us to learn that oil and gas are not worth the long term costs to the environment, communities and the people of the Gulf Coast?  Why do we accept coastal destruction and erosion, oilfield debris, oil and gas explosions, spills and pollution as a necessary trade for jobs?  Why are we willing to trade sustainable local seafood, tourism and recreational jobs for destructive, polluting ones?  When will our legislators begin to move towards bringing us jobs from clean energy development (solar, etc), rather then hanging on to the past and continuing to support social and environmental destruction in the name of the economy?  Jobs that promote sustainable, local small businesses and communities rather then pushing forward with industrialization of seafood production, which will cause further environmental destruction, fish population decline, and the collapse of local coastal community economies.  Have we not learned anything from the industrialization of our farming communities and the resulting environmental and social destruction? Dead Zone in the Gulf and the loss of family farms and communities.   Jobs where we produce and build what we need, locally, rather then importing it from elsewhere.   When will those, who claim to serve the people, stand up for us, our communities and our natural resources, rather then corporate interests and environmental and social devastation?”

Good questions. Any comments?

Ocean Day, As Seen from 36,000 Feet

I spent the bulk of Earth/Ocean Day on airplanes, hardly the most environmentally healthy thing to do. I would have much preferred a long walk on a beach somewhere … anywhere … but ultimately escaping my week-long lockdown in London and avoiding that long bus-ride to Madrid to get off the continent was worth it. I arrived at Heathrow armed with several different airline reservations and flew back to New York on a plane oddly only half-full and laden with more smiles than I’ve ever seen in any airport scenario in a well-traveled life.

Being at 36,000 feet and looking out the window for several hours did give me an opportunity to ponder just how the orb below is faring. I would have liked to divert and fly over the Icelandic volcano that had so handcuffed much of the world’s air travel for the past week, though the pilots probably would not have been inclined to test their engines by flying into the ashen sky; I wish I could have talked them into detouring south and flying over the Gulf of Mexico, for a bird’s eye view of that horrific/spectacular fire burning on the Deep water Horizon oil rig, a reminder of one of the real impacts of our dependence on fossil fuels; if they’d been willing to drop even lower, I imagine we could have skimmed over the surface and seen those growing gyres filled with plastic in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

But from high altitude it is hard to see the pollutants threatening the ocean. Truth is, it’s even hard in most cases to see them at sea level. Which is a big part of the problem when it comes to environmental protection. Out of sight, out of mind. (As spectacular as the images are of that oil rig ablaze, for example, it’s 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Very few people will see it up close, thus its damage will always seem very far remote.) The fact that the ocean has been altered by man over the past century – polluted, its acidity levels altered by carbon dioxide, over fished, its reef damaged – is indisputable. That in so many cases the ocean still manages to look pristine and unharmed almost works against it. I’ve fallen victim to that myself, both at sea level staring out at that place on the horizon where blue meets blue, and from up high looking down on a watery landscape that often – mistakenly — seems the very definition of pacific.

If you want to see some of the ocean’s greatest beauty, slip out in the next few days and see the new Jacques Perrin/Jacques Cluzaud film OCEANS (their last together was WINGED MIGRATION). I’m biased, since I’ve done the companion book to the film (Oceans, The Threats to the Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide), but the $75 million movie – distributed in the U.S. by DisneyNature – strings together some of the most incredible ocean footage ever. And for the first week it’s out, Disney is donating a dollar per ticket to a Nature Conservancy program to set aside a marine protected area in the Bahamas.

A feature film of course can only go so far in regard to making a difference. Sitting in theater “observing” the ocean is only half the battle. If you really want to affect change in regard to the ocean, the first thing we have to encourage is changing rules and regulations to protect it. On a more personal level I think you have to go out and get in the ocean every once in awhile to remind you of its beauty, its power and its fragility. To save the ocean, I’m afraid, you’ll have to get wet.