The Beacon

New Orleans Residents Find Solidarity at Oil Spill Teach-in

Emily Peterson, a southern Louisiana native and Foundations Associate here at Oceana, has been in Louisiana witnessing the effects of the oil spill. She sent us this dispatch from a teach-in she attended.

Yesterday evening a crowd of New Orleans residents attended a teach-in to discuss the oil spill tragedy unfolding in our backyard on the Gulf. The event offered residents an opportunity to learn the facts and ask questions in a non-politicized environment, and to build a sense of solidarity to cope with this unprecedented environmental and cultural tragedy.

The featured speaker was Kerry St. Pé, a marine biologist and director of the Barataria-Terrebone National Estuary Program, an agency that protects the fragile wetlands between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers, which is disappearing faster than any other area in the world due to coastal land loss and is now threatened by the oil slick.

St. Pé has spent much of his career dealing with oil spills:  he previously oversaw the cleanup of thousands of oil spills in Louisiana marshes as the head of Louisiana’s oil spill response team. Despite his former experience, St. Pé said he’s blown away by the magnitude of this spill.

“This is a history changing event,” St. Pé said. “I’ve never seen a spill like this that threatens our culture and way of life – we’ve all survived hurricanes, sure, but our way of making a living was not interrupted.”

While St. Pé remains cautiously hopeful that Louisiana’s marshes will survive the impacts of the spill, he worries that the people who depend on those fishing grounds for their livelihoods may be unable to wait for the recovery.

For example, oysters are currently preparing to spawn, and they lack the metabolic process to break down the toxic chemicals of oil.  Biologists predict that not only will this year’s crop of oysters be affected, but it’s possible that the mollusks will not produce next year either. 

Already, over 6,000 commercial fishermen, mostly in the lower parishes of south Louisiana, have been affected  by the Gulf spill.  Analysts predict that at least 12,000 jobs will be lost over the next month.

Mental health experts also warn that there could be an increased risk of suicide and risk-taking behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse among middle-aged men as they deal with the loss of their traditional work.

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