Posts Tagged ‘Oil Spill’

Dr. Sylvia Earle Speaks at UGA Oil Spill Symposium

This afternoon, I had the honor of attending the Keynote speech for this week’s UGA – Georgia Sea Grant Oil Spill Symposium.  The speaker was legendary NOAA scientist, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and champion of the sea, Dr. Sylvia Earle.  Dr. Earle gave a wonderful talk on the urgency of protecting our world’s oceans, including first-hand testimony of her findings over the 40 years that she has been exploring the sea.

Sylvia Earle at UGA Oil Spill Symposium
Early in her talk, she recognized Dr. Samantha (Mandy) Joye, Marine Biologist at UGA for her tireless efforts to spread the word about her research into the spill’s impact on the water in the Gulf of Mexico.  The room broke into applause as this legend in the field of Marine Science gave a heartfelt thank you to Mandy for her refusal to remain silent and for her ongoing research into this disaster.  Mandy will be appearing on one of the panels tomorrow, which will no doubt bring compelling information and expert testimony to the Symposium.

Dr. Earle’s account of her lifetime of exploring the world’s oceans was moving and inspiring beyond words, but I wanted to share a few quotes from her here:

“The greatest diversity of life in in the sea. …we need to have access to the sea”

“A turtle can’t know why these changes are taking place.  We are the ones”

“There is a series of species at risk due to our carelessness”

“We still know far less than we should know about what happened, what continues to happen” [re: oil spill]

“If people don’t know, they can’t care”

“Right now, our planet is blessed with insight and information that will serve us well if we choose to use it”

“We need to embrace different attitudes toward the natural world”

“Once you know, you can’t go back.  You are burdened with knowledge”

“Now that we know what we know, we can make better choices going forward”

“We can make a difference by making changes in our behavior”

Those last few quotes were incredibly inspiring to me, because they essentially cut to the heart of how Spirit of the Gulf Coast was born and why I traveled to Athens for the Symposium.  This initiative came about because of our desire to spread the word about the tragic impact of the BP oil spill by showing a glimpse of the lives of people that are on the front lines.  We hoped that by bringing the human element to the forefront, we might capture the attention of those who might have tuned out so that we could have a meaningful discussion on our role in this unprecedented event and its ongoing impact.

Sylvia Earle and Brandon Sutton
Ultimately, this disaster is an opportunity for us to wake up and come to some tough realizations on how our collective behavior has brought us to this perilous point in human history.  I echo Dr. Earle’s feeling that not only do we need to embrace different attitudes toward the natural world, but that we can each make a difference by making changes in our behavior.  We can no longer ignore the ramifications of our past behavior and now that we know what we know, we can make better choices going forward.

This quote is from the end of our film. I thought it was particularly appropriate given Sylvia’s message today:

“We’re in jeopardy of losing this area, losing the ecosystem, losing the people, losing the wetlands, and I think we all need to pay attention.  We need to really take a look at what role we all play, as individuals and as society in that impact, so that we can hopefully make better choices in the future.”

If you want to be part of the solution but you’re not sure where to begin, there are links on the Taking Action area of our site that will give you a starting point.  We won’t solve the problem overnight, but we can each take the first step.

We each have choices. The question is, what will we do with those choices?  I hope you will join us in looking inward and taking steps toward reducing our collective impact on the Gulf and our environment overall.  If you’re ready, please share your thoughts in the comments or email us so we can work together.


01 2011

Mixed Messages

The news that has been coming out of the Gulf region the past few days has been a mix of concern, caution, and optimism.  On Thursday September 2, there was an explosion on an oil platform off the Louisiana coast, which caused a brief flare-up of activity and attention in the media.  When I heard the news, I immediately thought about the people we met along the coast and how they were processing this latest incident.  Thankfully, there was no loss of life or oil spilled into the water this time around, but I can’t help but wonder how coastal residents perceive the risks to their livelihood in light of ongoing mis-steps by the industry that is responsible for so much economic activity in their communities.

Decontamination Area at Portersville Bay, AL

The same day as the Mariner platform fire, Jerry Cope posted an alarming account of human toxic exposure while in the Gulf region over at Huffington Post.  As I read his account of what his team experienced while in the area, I heard Lori’s words echoing in my head from our conversation with her near Dauphin Island, Alabama 2 weeks ago.  She described changes in the air and water, including anecdotal evidence of adverse effects of the dispersants at her home and in her community.  Jerry’s findings are hardly surprising, given the fact that Corexit (the dispersant used in the BP oil spill cleanup) is a hazardous substance, and in the manufacturer’s own product safety sheet it clearly states ‘Do not contaminate surface water.’

On the other hand, this week reports came out that describe microbes eating the oil but not causing oxygen depletion of the water as was feared by some initially.  This was described as the ‘best possible scenario’ by Government Scientists in the AP report, yet we still don’t know the effects that the dispersants have had on the ecosystem and what the long-term implications will be on marine life.  It seems premature to celebrate given the magnitude of what has taken place in the Gulf of Mexico this year.

Spirit of the Gulf Coast

On a note of optimism that characterizes the spirit that we encountered on our trip, Van Jones posted a moving article called The Gulf Will Be Beautiful Again about his vision for the future of the region. He portrays a new paradigm emerging that is both beneficial to the ecology and economy, an important balance that must be struck in order for meaningful progress to be made.  Is it possible that we are at a turning point and are ready to take steps in a new direction for the Gulf Coast?  I definitely would like to believe that’s the case.  I share in the optimism that Van Jones puts forth – it is what drove me to organize this initiative in the first place.

Photos by Terrell Clark


09 2010

For The Birds

Saturday, August 21 on Grand Isle, LA, we went out on an offshore charter to get the perspective of the local fishermen who depend on these waters for their survival.  While we were offshore, our Captain, Kenny Heikamp told us his first-hand experiences and heart breaking stories of the birds that were the caught up in the oil from the BP spill.

Most of the conversations we had while on Grand Isle focused on the fish, but Kenny reminded us just how much of an impact this tragedy had on the birds that depend on the area for sanctuary.   Check out this short clip from our conversation with Kenny:

These are photos that Kenny took with his phone on his boat during the peak of the oil spill’s impacts off Grand Isle.  He has been up close and personal with these impacts in a way that few others have.

Oiled Bird off Grand Isle, LA

Oiled Bird off Grand Isle, LA

The birds of this coastal region are every bit a part of the spirit of the communities as the people and the fish.  During our short time on the water, we saw some remarkable aerial displays by birds in the area.  Something about their presence makes the experience of being out on the water more soothing.  It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for these birds and the brave individuals charged with saving them from this disaster.  Kenny’s testimony underscores this tragic consequence of the spill.

Thank you, Kenny for sharing this side of the story with us.

Photos courtesy of Kenny Heikamp, 2010


09 2010

“It’s Our Life”

Saturday evening, we went down to the bridge on Grand Isle to speak with some locals and get their perspectives on the oil spill its affect on the water.  It didn’t take long to get them talking; there is a lot of passion and enthusiasm in this community.  One of the guys we spoke with told us that despite tar balls washing up on the beach daily, he believes the water is ok now and the shrimp are safe to eat.  We heard conflicting stories in our visit, but the over-arching message that emerged was that things are beginning to settle down and return to ‘normal’ for many of the locals.

There is a strong need to believe what they are being told by the local officials and government agencies such as NOAA, because the water and fish that live in it are truly their lives.  Without fishing, there is no community.  Fishing is a way of providing food, income, time for family and friends to spend together, and also a way to simply relax.  All of this and more was lost when the water was closed to fishing.

We were on Grand Isle just 2 weeks after some of the waters in the area were opened for fishing again and there was definitely a sense of relief amongst the fishermen that they were able to return to this important ritual that sustains them on so many levels.  However, when the conversation veered to the presence of chemical dispersants in the water, the tone changed.

In future posts, we will dig deeper into this issue, including in-depth interviews with Lori from Alabama, who told us about the ongoing use of dispersants and their affect on the water and air near her home.  We posted a quick entry on her perspective on dispersant use, but will be revisiting this issue in greater detail in the days ahead.

Thanks for following along.


08 2010