Bird’s-Eye View: More Photos BP Doesn’t Want You To See

Yesterday, thanks to the generous support of GRN member and Gulf coast environmental activist, Jo Billups of the environmental music duo Sassafrass, I took another flight over the gulf coast to assess oil impacts and containment and clean-up efforts, if you can call it that. With me on board was Sig from Rehage entertainment, the producers of the Voodoo Music Experience and Essence festival, as well as freelance photographer, Robin Walker. This particular flight was in response to a 72 hr. notice of oil impacts for the Alabama Gulf that was issued on June 30th. Some of you may have heard that there are flight restrictions over Breton Sound and may be wondering how we were able to gain access. Let’s just say that we have the entire weight of the Gulf Restoration Network members and allies behind us and that thanks to them we are a force to be reckoned with. Our flight began in Belle Chase at 8:40 AM, went over Breton Island, Breton Sound, Chandeleur Islands, Ship Island, Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, Dauphin Island, Mobile Bay, and over Gulf Shores, Alabama on Orange Beach.The first thing that I noticed was how incredibly calm the waters were along the coast line of Louisiana and Mississippi. From a birds-eye view we could see schools of red fish, sharks, sting rays, Brown Pelicans, sea-gulls, etc. We could also see clearly that the clean-up and containment was, once again, pathetic. According to our pilot, clear days like this only occur 20-30 days out of the year and that this calmness should provide clean-up responders an excellent opportunity to get a lot done. So, where were they? How come we didn’t spot a single clean-up vessel in Breton Sound? What happened to the 10,000 vessels that the Unified Command just announced were fully engaged in the effort to defend our coast? Hadn’t we just heard President Obama call for an immediate tripling of the numbers of vessels and responders? Nevertheless, we ventured on to the aforementioned islands and took plenty of photos of booms and other clean-up or containment contraptions deployed mostly along the bay side of the islands. Unfortunately, as we have learned in Louisiana, these booms are virtually ineffective at stopping oil from tarnishing are precious estuaries, barrier islands and ecosystem. Some of my prior posts have demonstrated this ineffectiveness very clearly via video and pictures.I find it to be pretty troubling that on Orange Beach at Gulf Shores there were people swimming in the gulf waters. Troubling because, only a short few miles away we found oil and lots of it. Just 5 miles off the shore of Mobile Bay we ran into the infamous sheen as well as huge sheets of oil that had been hit with dispersants, as indicated by the bright orange colorization. What troubles me is that some of this toxic mixture could very well have already impacted those waters and beaches where tourists were frolicking. In my conversations with Marine biologist, Rick Steiner, I learned that it is entirely possible that the dispersant could flow inland at a faster rate than the oil itself and that it would be nearly impossible to detect with the naked eye. Shouldn’t we be erring on the side of caution and not have people swimming in areas that are in the immediate crosshairs for this BP drilling disaster mess?I also found it extremely troubling and frustrating that we could only see two shrimp boats retrofitted with boom working in vain to contain this oil. How is this even possible? BP and the federal government have known for weeks that this scenario would play out and yet they demonstrated an utter failure to defend our coast. If they cannot do it then they need to step out of the way and let those who can get to work. Instead, what does BP do? They have initiated a new no-fly rule over the Alabama gulf coast since our flight yesterday. Stay tuned as we fully intend to continue with our independent watchdogging over BP’s drilling disaster.Jonathan Henderson is GRN’s Coastal Resiliency Organizer

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