Thursday, August 12, 2010

Out of Sight...Out of Mind in the Gulf?

Driving east through Texas, I noticed that my first glance of the Gulf of Mexico would occur in a little town called Baytown, Texas. We pulled off the interstate and followed GPS to the water. Accustomed to California's open beaches, crashing waves, and temperate weather, I wasn't expecting the palpable heat and humidity, the stirring insects, the lush greenery strangling out ocean views. Where the bay was accessible, chain-linked fencing and barbed wire made it inaccessible while signs warned:

In Baytown, the oil companies' ubiquitous presence soon became apparent. In the distance, refineries loomed on the horizon. Exxon Corporate Headquarters and numerous chemical companies called the town home. The only accessible beach was at Baytown Nature Center, a small park made possible through Exxon and Lyondell Chemical donations.

Upon entry, we asked the ranger if the area had been affected by the oil spill. An older gentleman with partial paralysis and a limp, he responded, "No, thank goodness. If the oil ever came this far, we'd be in big trouble."

We reached the water, and it didn't take long to find evidence to the contrary. Along the marshes heron, searched for fish just feet away from oil sludge washed up on rocks:

The nature center becomes paradox embodied. On one hand, a fragile ecosystem bustles with life. In the background, symbols of mass industrialism remind one of the costs of our modern comforts. Signs throughout the marshlands warn of petroleum pipelines below.

A visible oil sheen washes ashore. Fishing lures abound on the pier, evidence that people, like heron, continue to feed from these waters.

We were not the first to note the still lingering effects of the oil spill--despite federal assurances that 75% of the oil is cleaned up, reports continue to come in on the LA Bucket Brigade's oil spill map.

Near Baytown, people have reported damage to turtle nesting grounds, visible oil tar, and oil washing ashore. The map shows damages to the coast all the way to the Mexican border, and it surely extends even farther.

Driving away, we were amazed to see swimmers at a nearby beach. At Dauphine Island, Alabama, swimmers reported encountering oil as thick as peanut butter. John Gray reported, "You couldn't see it on the surface at all, but once we got in the water about waist deep, we started getting it on our knees and all over us." (AS REPORTED BY CARY CHOW FOX NEWS HERE)

As public assurances continue and visible damage dissipates, will business simply return to usual in the Gulf? Out of sight, out of mind?

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