Posts Tagged ‘community’

Kids of the Gulf

Last Summer, and again this Spring, I heard story after story about people along the Gulf coast whose lives had been turned upside down despite the lack of widespread attention on their struggles. This April, one year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the point was really driven home that kids and families are enduring a great deal of silent suffering as a direct result of the BP oil spill in 2010. The stories continue to echo in my head, and when the opportunity to work with kids down on the Gulf coast came up, I jumped in with both feet.

Spirit of the Gulf Coast came about because of a desire to learn and share what was happening on the coast with the hopes that we could come together and reduce the likelihood of these disasters occurring in the future. Feedback for our modest initiative came on the radar of the newly formed Ian Somerhalder Foundation this Spring. This connection led to the introduction to 2 incredible young change makers that are active volunteers and determined to make a difference in areas most impacted by the oil spill.

These kids are highly engaged and have mobilized tens of thousands of other kids around the world by spearheading the self-proclaimed Kids Army on Twitter. They are ready, willing, and able to affect change right now. They told me they wanted to help with the oil spill and asked me what I thought they should do.

Enter Kids of the Gulf.

Devin DrawingKids of the Gulf is a new documentary initiative that will follow 7-year-old Devon and 13-year-old Devin as they visit the Gulf coast this November and connect with kids and families in local communities from Grand Isle, Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.  The production will culminate in a professional quality, made-for-TV film that will show the world how kids are dealing with the oil spill and what lessons can be learned as a result of this unfortunate tragedy.

Director Adam Dukes and Executive Producer Leigh Halsema from The Know Better Effect, a TV show about kids learning and taking action on important social issues, have come together with me to make this film. The synergy here is remarkable, and I strongly believe that this film will inspire kids around the world to speak up and take action on social and environmental issues they care about in their own communities.

Today, I’m asking for your support to help us make the film.

The energy that these kids are bringing to the table is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and they are committed to making an impact by sharing this journey of discovery and learning with the rest of the world. This is where you can help!

We are raising money on Indie GoGo to pay for production costs, and I’m asking you to please consider becoming a contributor to the film. We have some really cool rewards for supporters, but in reality the best reward we can offer is the sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve made a huge impact on not only these kids, but kids around the world that are inspired to act as a result of seeing the film.

Please help us out, and become a change maker yourself. Thank you for the support, and we’ll continue this conversation over at the Kids of the Gulf website.


09 2011

Stories of Struggle and Triumph along the Gulf Coast

My recent trip to the Gulf coast 1 year after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion was full of interesting conversations, varied perspectives, and conflicting feelings.  I spent more time along the Alabama coast this time, and had a chance to talk to a couple of commercial shrimpers at length during the 4-day trip.

Oil Lawyer Bayou La Batre AlabamaAs I mentioned in the previous post, many of the fishermen on the coast continue to struggle with the economic impact of the spill.  Between the distrust of seafood safety in the public eye and the lost revenue from operations in 2010, there is tremendous hardship that is not easily remedied.

The stories of people being made whole do not accurately reflect the reality of conditions on the ground for everyone on the coast.  I heard over and over that claims had not been paid, or were denied due to red tape or lack of documentation.

Minh Le Coden Alabama

One of the shrimpers we talked to even went to far as to describe the negative impact the payouts have had on the labor force. In his opinion, paying people to not work not only doesn’t make them whole, but it creates a false sense of entitlement, which makes engaging the labor force in the future that much harder. In other words, money does not solve the problem.  He believes that people need work to be whole, not handouts.

I had the opportunity to meet the Chauvin family on Grand Isle, who graciously welcomed us into their beach home last August. They were back at their summer camp and out fishing on the waters off the island with their grandchildren.  Life has returned to normal for them and they seemed relieved to be back in their home that 1 year ago was full of rowdy cleanup workers.

We did not visit the main tourist centers, as that has not been a primary focus of our work.  However, we heard anecdotally that business is booming in the tourist towns along the coast.  Spring Break seemed to be a success this year, and we even heard reports of business being up this year compared to previous years.  Some of this was credited to the massive advertising campaign that promotes the vitality of the Gulf coast by BP.

Speaking of spending, people are buying stuff with their BP money.  Cars, trucks, boats, clothes, etc. The stories I heard on this past visit are almost identical to what we heard last August.  Some people made out like bandits, while others received little to no assistance.

This brings up an interesting point, which is where the conflicting feelings come into play.  It is clear that trust in the cleanliness and safety of the water and beaches is critical for the local coastal economies, but so is trust in the safety of the seafood.

It seems that one industry has been made more whole than the other.  Clearly, tourism is winning, while seafood struggles.  But why?  Perhaps the use of chemical dispersants during and after the spill essentially allowed the visual images of 200 million gallons of oil in the water to quickly be hidden away so that life could return to ‘normal’ on the coast.  But at what cost?

Cutoff Louisiana

There have been widespread reports of health concerns along the coast, and this was reiterated by locals that I spoke to.  Respiratory problems, headaches, scratchy throats, and other symptoms were common amongst many of the people I interviewed. Local grassroots organizations have formed such as the Gulf Coast Barefoot Doctors, a group of lay people that seeks to teach affected residents about the health risks of toxic exposure and how people can detoxify their bodies using natural remedies.

Jessica - Grand Isle

Jessica from Grand Isle described her trouble with health concerns that started in May of last year that continue to persist today.  She believes that she was exposed and continues to be exposed to toxins from the spill and cleanup efforts and that others on the island have been exposed as well.  According to Jessica, there have been appeals to the local and state government to set up clinics to test residents for chemical exposure, but those requests have not resulted in any movement toward providing care for the locals in Grand Isle.

Jessica is fired up though.  She attended the PowerShift rally in Washington DC the week before and was excited to connect with other youth that are passionate about moving toward alternative fuels that don’t carry the same risks to her home as petroleum and other fossil fuels.

Lori Coden AlabamaLori from Coden, Alabama also had health problems that couldn’t be explained away.  She went in search of a local doctor that would test her blood for chemical exposure related the spill, but had trouble finding a doctor that would even conduct the test. She was dismayed that despite the US Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin having a practice just a few miles from her house where she is a patient, Lori was unable to get the blood test she needed to determine if in fact her symptoms could be the result of toxic exposure.  She finally found a doctor 75 miles away that conducted the test, which came back positive for Ethylbenzene and Xylene in excess of the 95th percentile.

Brandon Sutton & LeoLeo Denton from Dauphin Island took Simone and I on a canoe trip over to Little Dauphin Island where he showed us unusual dark, crusty formations in the sand that he has never seen before in the 15 years he’s lived on the island. Amongst a backdrop of natural gas rigs that dotted the seascape, he described the spill’s negative impacts on his community, the fear of future accidents near their home. He went on to describe health troubles that some of his children have battled in the year since the spill. Similar to other locals we spoke with, Leo is not the type to run to the doctor for treatment for most symptoms, but instead tends to let things run their course.

The lack of consistent testing and treatment is problematic at best. Many of the people that are at risk have no insurance or access to faraway doctors who are experienced in chemical exposure.

This raises an important question – what is the true sum of impacts from this disaster? We may never know the answer to this question, but it’s certainly worth asking.

There is an entire population of people whose very existence depends on the health of the water and the creatures that live in it.  In the haste to proclaim the spill to be over, many important factors related to the health and safety of the water have been ignored or marginalized.  What will happen to these people as this saga continues to unfold?

A possible silver lining in all of this is that awareness of the impacts we have on the environment and each other have come to the surface.  Ann from Wolf Bay, Alabama described the rapid coming together that occurred in her community at the onset of the spill.  Locals in the Wolf Bay Watershed Watch initiative sprung to action quickly to protect their coastline and estuaries and didn’t wait for State of Federal action. Coastal residents such as Leo, Jessica, Lori and others are speaking out about people taking responsibility for their actions and questioning the wisdom of continuing to consume energy and other resources at current rates.

It seems clear that we still have a long way to go in truly restoring the Gulf coast to its condition before the spill, but the resilience of the people in these communities along with the resilience of nature will see this through, eventually.  Stories like the ones I heard on this trip continue to reinforce the severity of the situation along the coast, but also the opportunity to come together and learn from this tragic event.

What do you think about what’s going on on the coast now?  Does this story still bring up feelings or emotions in you?

Photos 1-4: Brandon Sutton

Photos 5-6: Simone Lipscomb



05 2011

Oil Spill Impressions from the Alabama Bayou

Yesterday, Simone Lipscomb and I visited Coden, Alabama to reconnect with the community that was such a focal point of our efforts last Summer.  Lori Bosarge, a key individual in our film had set up a couple of interviews for us with affected members of the community.

The docks along Portersville Bay were a big part of the cleanup operations last Summer, and this area continues to be a point of focus for us today. Today, locals are down in the area fishing, playing in the sand, but also sharing stories of uncertainty and concern about the safety of the area. The spill is still fresh in their minds and they are willing to open up and tell their stories to whoever will listen.

Portersville Bay State Dock

We visited with Dale, who owns a shipyard on the bayou. When I asked Dale if people still talked about the oil spill, he immediately said yes, every day. Despite the perception that things are back to normal and everything is fine, people are still suffering in this small coastal community. The rising cost of fuel has put a tremendous strain on the customers that Dale relies on to stay in business.  One of the boats that he is getting ready to launch costs between $60,000 and $70,000 to fill up.  As fuel costs continue to rise, there is concern that his customers might not be able to build more boats.

Dale Coden Alabama

Minh Le, a local shrimper, described the impact on his ability to put people in the community to work. He operates 2 shrimp boats, and both have been docked since the oil spill began, with the exception of a couple of months of work during the Vessels Of Opportunity (VOO) program last Summer during the cleanup effort. He hopes to be able to take 1 of the boats out at the end of the month, but the economic realities of shrimping make it very difficult for him and his workers to make a living.  Between the price of fuel and the lack of trust in the safety of the seafood (which keeps prices lower than normal), there is tremendous uncertainty in the viability of his business.

Minh Le on Portersville Bay

However, in light of this disaster, there are rays of light shining through.  We talked last Summer about the resilience of these communities and the individuals that live in them, and there seems to be a real coming together now with people sharing information, stories, and support with each other. Lori, Dale, and Minh have come together through the South Bay Community Alliance, which is a community group that seeks to bring the local community together and help each other in the face of adversity.

Lori & Minh Le Portersville Bay

See a couple of clips from our interviews in Coden Alabama in the short video below.

Thank you for following along. More stories from the coast to come soon.

Photos: Simone Lipscomb


04 2011

Work on the Gulf Coast Continues

We are approaching the 1-year anniversary of the blowout on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig that resulted in an unprecedented oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Although this is not an issue that is talked about much outside the coast these days, its impacts are far from over. 

Dolphin Skull on Navarre BeachIn the past few months, we have continued to connect with people in local communities to stay abreast of what is going on along the coast.  During the UGA Oil Spill Symposium in January, I met a local resident from the Florida panhandle who is steadfast in updating her network on the latest developments and she has graciously included me in her outreach.  I also recently connected with Simone Lipscomb, a photographer that has been documenting the impact on wildlife along the coast. She has posted some incredible images as well as some stark reminders of just how serious this issue continues to be.  Check out her photos here and her blog here

Article after article are emerging that highlight just how far-reaching the impacts of the spill continue to be.  Here are some of the articles that have come out recently that serve to remind us what coastal residents are still dealing with:

  • Article on the potential for health impacts from evaporated oil
  • WKRG- Mobile video interview with Dr. Samantha Joye from UGA discussing her research and the assertion that a considerable amount of oil remains in the system
  • Red And Black in-depth article on Dr. Joye discussing how she became interested in marine science and her experience researching the BP oil spill
  • Pensacola News Journal Article on the large tar mat off Perdido Key in Florida
  • Simone Lipscomb blog entry from March 4, 2011 documenting ongoing presence of oil in the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
  • Recently recorded video with Lori Bosarge from Coden, Alabama describing her health problems she blames on the oil spill.  Lori was featured in our documentary film last Fall.
  • Video interview with me by the Our Revolution team that’s on a road trip ‘discovering social good’


These are just a few in a consistent stream of stories about impacts such as greatly increased dolphin mortality, large areas of oil and tar mats continuing to wash up on beaches, and perhaps most disturbing, reports of locals who believe they are suffering from serious health impacts from the spill. And of course, this all plays into the confidence of people that would normally be visiting the coast.  As we come up on the 1-year anniversary of the spill, we are also approaching the high tourism season along the Gulf coast.  Time will tell if this season will provide some relief to the businesses that managed to survive the spill and the winter months.  This is perhaps the biggest conundrum.  Everyone wants this to be over so they can return to their lives as they were before the spill.  Unfortunately, it appears that ‘back to normal’ is not where we are today.  

Oil Spill Commission ReportEver curious, I recently read the report from the President’s Oil Spill Commission, and there were some key takeaways that are worth exploring.  I found the report to be quite a thorough and balanced view of the offshore drilling industry accompanied by some very clear recommendations for safety and regulatory enhancements that would help prevent this kind of disaster in the future. 

Rather than attempt to recap the entire report here, I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the disaster and the root causes of the accident to read it for themselves.  However, I will say that a critical point made is that there is urgent action that needs to be taken on the commission’s recommendations at the level of the Administration, Congress, and the Oil Industry.  Absent major changes to the system, we risk facing this same devastating scenario all over again should another blowout occur. I believe the people and wildlife along the coast that have suffered so much as a result of this disaster deserve the nation’s attention in this matter.  In the concluding paragraph from the report, this point is poignantly made:

“This Commission proposes in this report a series of recommendations that will enable the country and the oil and gas industry to move forward on this one critical element of U.S. energy policy: continuing, safe, responsible offshore oil drilling to meet our nation’s energy demands over the next decade and beyond. Our message is clear: both government and industry must make dramatic changes to establish the high level of safety in drilling operations on the outer continental shelf that the American public has the right to expect and to demand. It is now incumbent upon the Congress, the executive branch, and the oil and gas industry to take the necessary steps. Respect for the 11 lives lost on that tragic day last April requires no less.”

There are no quick fixes to this situation, but to throw our arms up in the air because it’s too hard, or to pretend the problems do not exist is irresponsible and disrespectful to those whose lives hang in the balance, and especially those lives already lost. We must not forget the importance of making meaningful changes to the industry if we are going to continue to rely on these resources to meet our energy needs.

I encourage everyone to continue to monitor this story and not let it fade into obscurity.  We have work to do, and everyone has a role to play.  If you need some ideas on what you can do, visit the Taking Action page of our site.  Most of all though, continue to ask questions.  Dig beneath the surface chatter and the headlines and ask the tough questions before drawing your own conclusions.  Then, engage others on the issue and help them understand why this is important.  Just don’t forget what happened here.  To do so would be a slight to the entire Gulf coast.


Top Photo: Navarre Beach, January 2011, photo by Brandon Sutton
Bottom Photo: Cover of the Oil Spill Commission Report


03 2011