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Oceana Magazine Summer 2010: A Gulf Changed

by Suzannah Evans

For nearly 100 days, the ocean oil well named Macondo gushed millions of gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time the well was plugged, an estimated 200  million gallons had flowed into the Gulf in a disaster that is up to 20 times worse than Exxon Valdez. Skimmers, burn-offs and absorbent booms had gathered just a fraction of the oil by early August.

In the meantime, thousands of birds, fish, marine mammals and sea turtles have been affected by the oil – as well as the communities of fishermen and vacationers that call the Gulf coast their home. These photographs tell just one part of the story that will continue to affect this region for years to come.

The effort to contain and understand the oil spill has required thousands of scientists, engineers, National Guardsmen and volunteers from beaches to the spill site, 50 miles offshore. Sean Meehan, a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tested for subsurface oil using a plastic pompom (right) while workers hired by BP changed out absorbent booms that encircled mangroves where pelicans, roseate spoonbills and other birds were raising their chicks (center) and the National Guard constructed an eight-mile “tiger dam” on the Grand Isle, La. beach (left).

Workers cleaned up hard-hit Grand Isle (left) and gathered bags of thick oil on the beach (top).

By the end of July, more than 2,800 oiled birds had been collected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other agencies. Half of them were dead. Most of the living birds were taken to the bird cleaning center at Fort Jackson, which was run by the International Bird Rescue Research Center. The center’s executive director, Jay Holcomb, was named Oceana’s 2010 Ocean Hero Award winner.

After cleaning, the birds were released in Georgia, Texas and Florida. But there is no guarantee that they didn’t instinctively return to the oily marshes of Louisiana.

 

 

In late June, Grand Isle, La.’s beachfront homes were largely empty of vacationing families as beaches and fishing were shut down. Residents let the signs they left behind speak for them.

 

 

 

 

Oceana’s campaign

Oceana has long opposed new offshore drilling, which will never be safe or clean. When the 26-year-long bipartisan moratorium on ocean oil drilling was allowed to expire in 2008, Oceana was the first group to testify before Congress calling for the reinstatement of the ban. After the Gulf oil disaster began in April, the U.S. government temporarily halted new drilling, and ended proposed lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. But the fight to protect our oceans from drilling is far from over.

Oceana has gathered more than 150,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to ban offshore drilling and end all planned drilling and exploration. In August, Oceana launched a two-month research expedition in the Gulf to study the effects of the oil spill on marine ecosystems, from testing for subsurface oil to tagging migrating whale sharks. The results will illuminate how offshore drilling endangers irreplaceable marine ecosystems. For more about Oceana’s campaign and expedition, visit www.oceana.org.