My Trip to Grand Isle

Last week my internship with the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries brought me to Grand Isle, La. to photograph the release of some turtles back into the Gulf. Arriving in Grand Isle I soon found out that there weren’t enough spots on the boat due to the late arrival of an AP member. Being an intern and the low man on the totem pole, I would not be going out to the release, instead I would photograph the boats heading out to the release from Grand Isle State Park.

Not letting this bother me, I decided to walk the beach of the State Park and observe the clean up efforts that are still taking place. 6 months and a day since the oil spill there were smaller clean up crews shoveling up the top layers of sand, and meanwhile large tractors shuffling sand through some type of filtration system.

I talked to the two in the picture cleaning up about their work. Apparently they are contracted through someone who is contracted, though someone who is contracted through BP. (and no that’s not a typo) They told me work was slow, and they find a tar ball here and there. I asked them while they were only shoveling up the surface of the sand and they told me that they have been instructed to do so, because there is oil underneath the surface. Our conversation only lasted a few minutes because it was time for them to head back to their clean up tent, now six month after the spill on a nice sunny day, they still only work in 30 minute shifts at a time.

Confused as to why the workers would not dig up the subsurface oil I decided to dig down into the sand with my hand, from what I could see about 8 inches down, there was NO oil. Coarse sand was all I found in the shallow hole I dug, but soon after this I would spot my first tar ball. Unlike the slimy tar balls they may have washed up on the shores in the weeks following the spill, these harden clumps blended in like part of the beach. It wasn’t until I spotted this large tar ball that I knew what they looked like.

I soon began to see smaller dime sized tar balls all around me. As I said before if you didn’t know what you were looking for you would miss them. I decided to break up a tar “clump” to see what the consistency of them was now 6 months later, although not slimy I found myself struggling to get the sandy film off of my fingers as you can see in this short video.

Here is a picture of the slimy stuff on my fingers. As you can see in the video it WOULDN’T wash off, so finally I used my extra t-shirt to wipe off the sludge. I can only imagine what the animals go through when they get in this stuff, and don’t have opposable thumbs or a mental capacity to understand what oil is, or where it came from. I am not trying to rant, or cast an ultra negative light, I am just saying it’s hard not to think that when you hear the birds around you as you wipe off your tar balled fingers.

Seeing these smaller tar balls all around me I decided to see how many I could pick up just in the radius around me in a matter of a few seconds. This pic has roughly 10 little tar balls…

The day started as a celebration of turtles being released back into the Gulf however, I would soon see that we have a long way to go. I am optimistic of the future for the Gulf, but it is a long road to recovery.

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