October 24th – 7:27PM (CST)
New Orleans, LA – Yesterday, we drove a couple hours east to D’Iberville, Mississippi where we launched, heading for a long strip of sand a few miles off the coast, called Horn Island. The island, several miles long, serves as a barrier to the coast and was a major sight of oil impact off the Mississippi coast. This was the third trip our team made to the site, each time showing less and less signs of wildlife. This time around, the island was devoid of birds or wildlife of any sort, spare the occasional “ghost” crabs. Easy enough to dismiss, if not for knowing that this was not always the case. Our purpose yesterday was to accompany volunteers from Green Peace and document as they took samples in the area. At first glance, the bright sand appears rather clean as, straining our eyes in the sun. As soon as we stepped off the boat, though, the impact there was obvious. Tar balls from the size of a grain of sand to several inches wide covered the sand from the shoreline to at 30 or so yards inland. Looking closely, you could tell that even the sand was now a mixture of normal sand and tiny droplets of weathered crude oil. Six months and over 75 miles from the initial spill, and yet the effects were blatant. All that that time had done was weather the oil enough that, from a distance, one might mistake it for something else until looking a little more closely.
Upon digging a couple feet under the surface, about 15 feet from the shore, we found sand littered with patches of oil. Each shovel full of sand uncovered a new patch of dark black, dotting every layer of sand. While cleanup crews were at work on other parts of the island, it seems pretty clear that oil like that won’t be removed for a long time, if ever. No one knows what the true impact of that will be, but it’s clear now that the shores of the Gulf will spotted with oil from surface to many feet below for years and decades to come.
It’s good to see groups like Green Peace employing resources to gather information that will hopefully help guide the recovery process, furthermore, they were one of two research groups we saw operating on the island. No doubt, however, these groups are severely limited in their capacities, working on tight budgets with small crews. On top of their resource limitations, they continue to face the occasional questioning from state and local officials. Upon our sampling, an official in charge of monitoring the island approached and question our operation, even stating that we weren’t allowed to take sand samples. Why do groups like this, that are already underfunded and undermanned, need to face additional scrutiny when performing work in the name of science and restoration? This is not a new theme and has been yet another disturbing aspect of the recovery efforts in the Gulf.