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Revisiting the Gulf

After several months away, I had a last-minute opportunity to revisit the Gulf Coast this week. I’ve been reconnecting with the region and talking with people from the Navarre Beach, Florida area for the past couple of days.  We were not able to visit this part of the Gulf on our expedition in August 2010, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend some time down here now.

Tomorrow, I’ll be revisiting some of the people in the areas that were part of our original expedition.  Members of the original team have been discussing a return trip to do some follow-up documentary work, and although this particular trip was not a planned visit, I am happy to be able to include some Spirit follow-up now.

In the few conversations I have had here thus far with locals, it seems that there is a sense of eager anticipation for the winter to hurry up and pass so that the tourism season can (hopefully) bring the people back to the region just like they did before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Sunrise on Navarre Beach, Florida
I spoke with a couple of ladies on the beach yesterday morning that suggested that the media did more to harm the Florida coast than BP did.  This sentiment was echoed by a friend of mine that I had lunch with today, although he conceded that although he didn’t see any visual impact himself, it could be because cleanup crews have been known to patrol the beaches to remove signs of oil and tar balls so that casual observers often don’t see the evidence of the spill.  He also mentioned that he didn’t trust the safety of the seafood and had avoided it almost entirely over the last 9 months.

One of the local restaurants I visited was quite sparsely scattered with patrons, despite the outstanding food and great service they provided.  When I asked the server how the spill had impacted the business, he told me that business was still way down, and there is ongoing struggle to keep people coming in.  It doesn’t help that this week has brought some of the lowest temperatures on record for this area.  Yet, the restaurant that I dined in tonight was packed and is experiencing year over year growth.  The owner informed me that he didn’t cater to the tourist crowd, and the locals have been very supportive.  It was great to hear that some local businesses are doing well despite the spill.

Navarre Beach Pier
Another recurring theme that feels like a continuation of what we heard on the original expedition is that the claims process is complicated and seemingly unfair.  According to the stories I’ve heard, some people are having trouble getting paid.  On the other hand, some are taking the one-time $25,000 payout and praying they made the right decision. It might be a good decision for some, but nobody really knows if the economic impact of the disaster will exceed that amount for individuals living and working along the coast.  It’s a chance that many people along the coast are essentially forced to take.  For some, there is no other option.  If they want to survive, they have to take what they can get from BP now.

In the morning, I head out to visit Coden, Alabama and Pearlington, Mississippi to reconnect with the families we met in August.  We’ve stayed in touch over the last few months, and I look forward to seeing how they are doing so I can share more of their stories here. On this weekend that we are called to service, I’m happy to have the opportunity to serve and support this area that has struggled so much.


01 2011

Remembering the Gulf Coast

Over the past week, I have been doing a lot of remembering; everything from what we saw and heard to what we felt and the emotions our expedition brought forth.  On Thanksgiving, I thought a lot about the people we met on our journey to uncover the truth about what happened along the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP oil spill.  I wondered what kind of holiday it would be for the people who have lost their entire way of life to this ongoing disaster.  It’s so easy for the majority of the population to forget what happened in the Gulf, because after 86 days of non-stop media coverage, you have to dig pretty deep to find anyone talking about it these days.

Let there be no mistake, the residents along the Gulf Coast are still reeling from this terrible situation.  During our expedition, I wrote about the resilience that is characteristic of the people who live and work in this region, and what we are hearing now is that they are being pushed beyond their limit to cope.  Earlier this week, NPR did a feature on a family that has lost everything due to the lack of work along the coast.  The article talks about the impact that the inability to provide for themselves and their families is having on the locals.  It’s a heart wrenching reminder of how devastating this whole situation continues to be.

This is a culture that is no stranger to adversity; natural disasters and the loss of wetlands are some of of the ongoing threats that are part of the everyday reality of life along the Gulf Coast.  But when you throw in a massive man-made disaster such as the BP oil spill into the mix, it casts a whole new light on their ability to keep themselves afloat.  This is something that the locals are largely powerless to fix, and therefore it continues to cause untold pain and suffering that is not easily understood.

One person that is keeping this story in focus is Ian Somerhalder, who has been somewhat relentless is his focus on the impact of this disaster on the region that he calls home.  His recent article on Huffington Post had me nodding my head in complete agreement, and it’s good to know that there are others out there that are trying to keep the focus on this community and its struggles in the aftermath of this tragedy. Ian recently started a foundation that I hope will be a source for good in the region.

Our goal for Spirit of the Gulf Coast was to understand what was happening along the coast and allow these stories to be told in an unfiltered and personal way.  The feedback from all of this has been incredible and there are rumblings amongst the team of a return visit after the new year.  We’ve had a recent wave of support, and this weekend the photo exhibit is on display at the Stacks Lofts + Artists Tour.  This has given us another opportunity to keep the conversation going and continue to spread the word about what we experienced on the coast this Summer.

If you have not had a chance to watch the film we produced, it’s worth checking out.  Feel free to post this to your own websites, blogs, etc.  We want the stories to be told far and wide.

Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of our efforts.  And please, this holiday season, keep those living and working along the Gulf Coast in your thoughts and prayers.  This is when they need it most.

Photos courtesy of Terrell Clark
Video Production by Nathan Black


12 2010

Documentary now online!

It’s been a little over two weeks since our exhibit at Georgia Tech, and I’m happy to be posting the 30-minute documentary we showed that night. It reveals everything we uncovered during our time we spend along the gulf coast, with interviews from locals hearing their take on the oil spill and its aftermath. There were many interpretations and opinions (sometimes conflicting) about everything, and all are portrayed in the film.

Since there were so many topics that surfaced during this complex debacle, we were originally going to separate them all into five mini-documentaries. But, once we got to pouring through the hours and hours of footage we shot, we decided to make it all part of one story–which, after all, it is.

We got great reception, and many people have been requesting we put it online so that friends can see it, as well as people who couldn’t make it out to the event. Feel free to share it with as many people as you like, and contact us if you have any feedback or would like to schedule a screening. Enjoy!

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10 2010

Action Steps Pt. 3

Taking steps to live a more sustainable lifestyle can have many levels of commitment. Some of our earliest steps required the least bit of effort, but in this part of our Action Steps series, we really delve into some of the larger decisions you can make to cut down on your petroleum use. You can:
  • Buy an electric car The coolest electric car company Wheego IS based right here in Atlanta
  • Buy a hybrid.
  • Buy a used diesel and burn local biodiesel in it. If you’re OTP check out our friends at Mobilized Fuels inc.
  • Move closer to work . According to the report “Growing Cooler: Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change”we can save 85 million tons of CO2 annually by 2030 if 60% of new growth is in compact living patterns.
  • Invest in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and start eating the food you grow.

Let us know how you are involved in any of these methods, and feel free to post pics with your hybrid, or picking tomatos from your CSA supported garden on our facebook page.


10 2010