Posts Tagged ‘Gulf Coast’

Visit to Coastal Alabama and Mississippi

In the last post, I highlighted some of my experience from Navarre Beach, Florida the week of January 10, 2011.  On Saturday, Jan. 15th, I had the opportunity to revisit 2 of the families that we interviewed in our documentary last August.

My first stop was in Coden, Alabama to visit with Lori and Dennis Bosarge. Lori is an outspoken critic of the way the government and BP has handled the cleanup in coastal Alabama, and with the use of chemical dispersants in particular. Lori’s artwork in her yard depicting the impacts of the cleanup was what drew us to her originally, and these same pieces are still on display out front.

Brandon, Lori and Dennis in Coden, AL
Lori described some recent health concerns that she has been dealing with in the past few weeks.  She has been having some adverse reactions to something in her environment, but she has been unable to isolate what is really going on.  Understandably, she is concerned that the use of toxic dispersants in the cleanup very close to her home could have contributed to the problem.  Lori went on to tell me about the process of trying to find a doctor in the area that is conducting blood testing for the compounds involved in the cleanup that might shed light on the situation.  She had not been successful in locating one at the time we spoke.

Lori is still concerned with the long-term impact on public health and the fishery along the coast of Alabama.  Her and Dennis live less than a mile from where the local cleanup operation was stationed in Portersville Bay and she has seen too much to simply stay silent and hope things are going to be ok.  We took a ride over to the Bay where our team visited in August 2010, but unlike what we saw last Summer (boat washing stations, large white chemical containers, and fuel tanks lining the docks), there is very little visual evidence of the cleanup operation currently.

Coincidentally, later that afternoon, the community had a meeting at the Coastal Response Center to discuss the oil spill and ongoing Hurricane Katrina impacts.  Outside of the coast, the country may have moved on, but in the bayou, the legacy of these disasters is fresh in the minds of local citizens.  I had to leave before the meeting began, but spoke briefly with several of the community leaders that shared Lori’s concern and had a general distrust that everything is fine and the oil spill has been effectively cleaned up.  I was also given a stack of books by Riki OttThe Sound Truth & Corprate Myth$.  Riki is an Exxon Valdez survivor and marine toxicologist that visited the Gulf Coast during the spill.  She gave several cases of books to the community, and Lori helps distribute them to people who are willing to listen.

After leaving Coden, I headed over to Pearlington, MS to visit with Daryl Arnold and his family. Daryl has been in the area all his life and despite his house being totally destroyed by Katrina, he has committed to staying in Pearlington. I wrote about his resilience in a previous post, and true to form, Daryl gave me another tour of the new home he is building on the site of the one that was destroyed 5 1/2 years ago. It towers above the camping trailer where he continues to live with his mother and girlfriend, and his new cat, which took quite a liking to me when I arrived.

When I asked about the oil spill, he described the somewhat chaotic process that he experienced when he filed his claim.  An attorney from outside the area came to the area and essentially rounded up hundreds of people in town to get them to file their claims.  After a couple of tries, Daryl finally managed to beat the rush at the meetings and got his claim filed.  He’s waiting to hear the results of the process, but is optimistic about the outcome. Otherwise, Daryl’s primary focus is on finishing the construction of the new house.

Before leaving, Daryl’s mother Betty handed me a copy of a book that was written by a woman who spent several formative years of her life in Pearlington – Mama Nettie’s Time to Love by Gail C. Fusco. In the book’s introduction, the author chronicles what life was like growing up in the area as well as her return to the area seeing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected life in this small town. She goes on to account the story of how Daryl had pulled his mother from the rising flood waters out through the window of the house and into his boat where they rode out the storm. It really is a remarkable story of survival against all odds that is still hard to fathom.

This very brief trip across the coast provided me with an opportunity to meaningfully reconnect with the people of the Gulf Coast.  I continue to look for additional opportunities to visit the area and share stories of those most impacted. Later today, I travel to Athens, Ga. to attend the UGA Georgia Sea Grant Oil Spill Symposium, which includes discussions by multiple scientists, writers, and community leaders.  The Keynote speaker is Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in Residence and former chief scientist for NOAA.  I will post updates from the Symposium on Twitter and her on the blog as info becomes available.  Thank you for allowing me to share my experiences with you here.


01 2011

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

Preview Party

Last Tuesday, we had a fun preview reception about our exhibition at the Hub Atlanta and it was a blast! In an intimate gathering of some of Atlanta’s most environmentally conscious leaders, there was a lot of friendly banter between everyone. There was plenty of wine and platters of tasty local food from Radial on Dekalb Ave. After a bit of mingling, everyone settled into their seats and watched a clip about what inspired the trip for all of us on the team.

The video served as a great starting point for discussion. Nathan, our videographer, talked about how seeing oil rigs for the first time left a lasting impression on him.  Brandon discussed what inspired the trip and how all of us saw things that we didn’t expect. The conversation went from the role of media coverage of the oil spill to parallels in community dependence of oil in coastal communities to a similar dependence on coal in mountain communities.  What was most encouraging was when the conversation transitioned into how we would address these topics in the upcoming event in October, there was a lot of interest. People were sincerely engaged by what we wanted to present and even shared some great ideas on how we could make it better.

The feedback has personally given us even more momentum for making this event a huge one. Thanks to all who came to the preview reception. You’ve lit a new fire in all of us to do all that we can to make this as eye opening and provocative as possible for all who attend. We can’t wait to see you on October 14th!


09 2010