Living With the Spill: Images From the Gulf
Living With the Spill: Images From the Gulf
The housing, tourism, and fishing industries took hits this summer in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Grand Isle 'Camps'
Home builders Gerald "Peanut" Torres and Dustin Cheramie invest in Grand Isle, La., property often referred to as "camps." The pair purchase lots and construct homes that range from $400,000 to $600,000. Investors flocked to the island after Hurricane Katrina because the area wasn't hit nearly as bad as other Louisiana communities. Cheramie finished six homes last year, which he sold to second-home buyers. Before April 20, Torres had a buyer lined up for this property. "They backed out because of the oil spill," he says. They now plan to rent the home to BP contractors.
Fishermen Take On Cleanup
In addition to building homes, Cheramie, 30, is a local fisherman based in Cut Off, La. He started his own fishing company when he was 17, which has grown to include a crew of 15. Business was good before the oil spill, he says, but since then, the fishing business has been at a standstill. He and his crew are now working for BP as part of the contract cleanup effort, picking up dirty boom and laying clean boom to soak up more oil. "I'm glad I'm making money, but I'm not making as much as I was fishing," Cheramie says. The bottom of his boat is covered in oil residue from the Gulf.
Fighting the Oil
Grand Isle's beaches were devastated by the oil this summer and were completely closed by mid-June. The tiny southern Louisiana island was thrust into the global spotlight as it became a hub for Gulf cleanup efforts. Nicole Lombas, broker-owner of Century 21 Nicole Lombas & Associates on Grand Isle described the situation as akin to a military base. The beach was taken over by cleanup crews, military vehicles, tents, and huge floodlights at night. Anyone without hazmat training, including locals and vacationers, was not allowed near the water.
New Use for Rentals
While vacation rentals are usually filled with beach-going families, they've since been transformed into housing for BP contractors. Members of the National Guard, Coast Guard, BP, and cleanup crews descended on the island in May. Lombas sees her role in the cleanup effort as helping workers find a place to sleep while also helping property owners bring in some income during this time of unrest. "I feel good that I can help these people. They've been working in the sun for 12 hours a day helping to save us and our island. And I feel good that I can lease houses, even if they're not selling," says Lombas.
Local Boats at Work
As part of BP's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Vessels of Opportunity program was created to employ local fishermen and boat operators to help with the response and cleanup. Their duties include transporting supplies and assisting with wildlife rescue, but the majority of ships deploy containment and sorbent boom to collect the oil. Approximately 3,000 vessels were hired as part of the program in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.
Containing the Spill
The bamboo poles sticking out of the water are holding absorbent boom in place. The orange line of containment boom is shielding a barrier island. The oil was so thick in this region in mid-June that the absorbent boom lasted only about an hour, Cheramie says. The smell of oil was also very potent in this region of the Gulf, off the coast of Grand Isle.
The Dirty Business of Boom
Here, ships soiled with oil residue are carrying in dirty boom to be changed out. More than 4 million feet of boom was distributed in the Gulf this summer. Since the July 15 containment of the well, BP has downsized its cleanup crews. On July 12, BP cited that 46,000 personnel were working in the Gulf. That number has dipped to 30,800 workers, according to an Aug. 9 press release.
The Gulf region surrounding Grand Isle consists of barrier islands, bayous, swamps, marshes, lakes, and complex river channels. It is home to more than 280 species of fish and is a haven for nesting birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set up a wildlife triage center on Grand Isle to rescue and rehabilitate birds and marine animals affected by the oil spill.
Emotions Run High
Emotions on Grand Isle ran high this summer and could be seen throughout the island on protest signs. Lombas says that property owners are angry that BP has caused them to lose money. "They're thinking, ‘No one wants to buy; not now.' Will it be a year, two years, five years, or 10 years? We don't know," she says. "How long will it take for our Gulf to be back to what it was?"
Grand Isle residents are closely tied to the environment, whether for their profession or in their free time. This protest art instillation created by a local seafood business owner is a symbolic graveyard. The words on each of the 101 crosses symbolize the elements of life on the island that have been affected by the spill, such as sandcastles, marlin, crabs, seagulls, etc.
A brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, is perched just outside of Grand Isle. Habitat restoration efforts attracted the large birds back to this region after being nearly wiped out in the 1970s. The spill, however, has affected nesting areas along the coast. Experts are concerned that the damage from the oil spill will once again threaten the bird's existence in Louisiana.
The Seafood Industry
The Gulf supplies between 20 and 30 percent of the nation's seafood; for oysters, it's between 60 and 70 percent. The value of the industry for Louisiana is $2.4 billion annually. Approximately 33.2 percent of Gulf of Mexico federal waters were closed to fishing as a result of the oil spill. Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafoods, an oyster processing company in Houma, La., says before the oil spill they brought in 40,000 to 80,000 pounds of oysters a day. They were down to 20,000 to 40,000 pounds per day by mid-June.
Testing for Safety
In Louisiana, families have been fishing for as many as eight generations. The longer impact of the spill could be the tainted branding Gulf seafood will need to overcome. "The brand of Gulf Coast Louisiana seafood has taken a hit," Voisin says, who pointed out that federal agencies, including the EPA, are conducting regular testing on waters that are still open to fishing, and the seafood they are producing is safe.
Vacationers Gone, Sales Drop
Beaches were deserted this summer along the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. Lisa Hollister, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Alfonso Realty in Ocean Springs, Miss., which has offices along the entire Mississippi coast, says sales were down 33 percent in June. Ken Austin, broker-owner of Mississippi Coast Realty in Pass Christian, has similar numbers, with sales drops between 30 and 40 percent in June and July. Austin worries the perception that Mississippi beaches are spoiled for the foreseeable future will hurt his business more than the actual physical presence of oil.