Monday, June 7, 2010

The Gulf Story, Four Weeks Ago

Inertia, Media Blackout, Night of Dolphins

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

We talk while 2 inches of rain smash the roof of his rental car, the sea kayak straps like wicks pulling in streams of water. Grand Isle is totally dead, tourist-wise, but the National Guard is staging there with trucks and big machinery. Marc talks about symbols, like those white pelicans in Montana days before, but this time we’re talking bottlenose dolphins, three of them, swimming near the dock in the moon-slivered night.

He’s talking to as many people as he can, and what he’s finding is people are mad about the oil catastrophe, and people want answers and they want guys like Marc Gauthier there filming, making some news reports, anything but cover-ups or lies, even only if to record some hillbilly music.

Groups doing bird rescue are hobbled by bureaucracy, the mind-numbing regulations, and the fact they can’t get to the islands because, one, they don’t have boats, and, two, because BP has choreographed a lockdown of sorts.

“It really feels like something big is about to come down,” Marc said after talking to four guys from Texas, “down here for the wicked fishing.” The grasslands, mangroves, cypress swamps, bayous, glades, what have you, all those ecosystems ringing barrier islands and drawing up the salt water into freshwater drainages, all of that will be hit soon by oil – not just globs but sheens and currents of the stuff.

The benthic zone, and the water column, according to Tulane University and University of Louisiana-Lafayette marine biologists and ecologists, will pay the price for this accident in the making.

Marc’s computer-free, but he did check out some of the underwater oil hemorrhaging footage on a PC at a real estate office where he went to upload and send some photos of the journey thus far.
“It’s 1 mile by 3 miles and 300 feet deep – like an island of oil coming from that wellhead.”

Marc’s finding the palm trees shedding fronds, and the wind and rain challenging, but he hopes to connect soon with volunteers and oil workers, anyone who can get him to islands.

Organizations including the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy are approved groups that are vetted for preservation and restoration work along the coastal tidelands of Louisiana. Yet Marc is seeing a complete media blockade and daunting rules for even these seasoned organizations, keeping them from doing any good out on the water and in the marshes.

“The fisheries are closing left and right, and the feds and BP are working together to put a lid on the scope of the oil coming in. I’m the only media guy here doing any filming or interviews. That’s cool.”

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