Monday, October 25, 2010

The Big Fool Says to Push On

It was 1967 when Pete Seeger wrote the song, 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy', but he couldn’t get it on the air due to censorship because of the Vietnam war. It took a year for the song to go public. Funny sometimes how things don’t change. The Big Fool still wants us to push on.

On August 23, we headed out with a collaborative team headed up by Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Captain Al Walker & Marine Biologist & Captain Scott Porter of Ecorigs. Our merry band included folks from Oceanic Defense, Sea Shepherd, Mission Blue, The National Wildlife Federation and All Eyes on the Gulf. What a mob!

Our mission was to head offshore to find bluewater, where we hoped to locate turtles and also to take samples of sargassum to see if there were any signs of hydrocarbons. But we found no bluewater and no sargassum. Our divers did spot one Kemps Ridley Turtle on the rig. We saw few bait balls, a few seabirds, and our guides, longtime fisherman Captain Al, and local marine biologist Scott Porter agreed that life out there was scarce.

Ten miles outside of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi, we approached Exxon Mobil’s Lena Oil rig. It has been producing since 1984 and sits in 1000 feet of water on the edge of the Mississippi Canyon. It’s no wonder that there is so much life growing on the rig. Notorious for ripping currents & big sharks, the Lena Rig promised to be an exciting dive.

As we approached, the roar and drone of the engines and generators was
almost deafening. It was an ominous, reverberating sound that felt like it vibrated every cell of my body. As a diver, I immediately thought of the poor fish gathered below, living with all of that amplified sound.

But the rigs do offer a safety of sorts – their latticework of metal below the water acts as an artificial reef where the fish can find shelter and food. Our two captains and dive leaders Al Walker and Scott Porter checked out the conditions. Visibility was low and the currents were moderate. Hoping for better visibility beneath the surface layer, they decided it was a go.

Fox News 8 from New Orleans was onboard, and they did a great piece the next night highlighting underwater footage shot by Al and Scott.

OK, so for all of you who know me, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t she dive?” Well, my hat is off to the guys who did, but I’m just not sure about this toxic soup. I hope to return to dive out in the blue water on some of the rigs farther offshore, but as you’ll see from the map image, this rig is right in the thick of it, and so I decided to observe from the surface.

On the way back to shore, we took water samples to be sent off for independent testing. As you can see, we encountered some very nasty stuff. In the video, the material on the surface that looks like mucous is, we think dispersed oil, and was actually taken the day before. On August 23, we found only foamy bubbles with brown oil on the surface. Conditions change from day to day a great deal.

Our day ended with a beautiful ray of hope, as we came through the marshes on the way back to Cypress Cove Marina in Venice. We saw egrets, herons, and roseatte spoonbills in greater and greater numbers as we came inland. They seemed to be healthy, and we saw adults and juveniles. It was breathtaking, and actually healing after what we had seen offshore.

So yes, all this, and The Big Fool Says to Push On. What do you say? Shall we push back?

The Growth of Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's Not Over in Plaquemines Parish

Usually when we see Kindra Arnesen, she’s speaking out for the people of her South Louisiana Parish – one of the hardest hit areas from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Yep, this pretty Cajun mama has taken them all on. It was priceless to see her get right up into Ken Feinberg’s face on the issue on why so many families in Plaquemine’s Parish have not yet received any payments from BP. And it brought a tear to my eye when she stood up in front of the White House last month, gettin' down about how she and other Gulf families feel betrayed in light of the way they’ve been treated after Katrina, and now this. Here’s a short clip to give you a taste. Fasten your seatbelts!

Kindra’s a great Mom, an amazing wife and now, by no choice of her own, a homegrown grassroots activist fighting tooth and nail for the people of the Gulf. And her voice has been heard around the world. After following Kindra on TV and YouTube for several months, I was a bit intimidated about meeting her. But this lady is ‘good to the bone’. After a couple of hours chatting with Kindra and her husband David, they felt like family.

It’s true of Kindra, David, and so many other folks I’ve met in Louisiana. They’re the real deal. Imagine getting into a time machine and going back 150 years to a better time. When a handshake meant everything. People looked you in the eye and you could feel who they truly were. Their laughter came from the heart, without warning, often for no reason at all. It was when most people were just plain good. And did I mention? Strong. Really strong.

Clearly the hardships these Bayou folks have had to endure have strengthened their characters. They are people of the sea. They have not led their lives glued to the TV and the Internet. They intrinsically understand what we have forgotten. With the world ocean in such jeopardy the tragic loss of many such fishing based cultures may be inevitable.

Here, where the Mississippi Delta fans out into the Gulf of Mexico at almost no elevation at all, you can be 30 miles north of Venice and it feels just like you're in the middle of the ocean in a boat.

They live on this peninsula where the Mississippi river reclaims a football field of land every hour. The very existence of this delta takes billions of dollars a year to maintain. And just offshore, a gold mine in precious oil.

David, Kindra and their neighbors have been there from Day 1. And still the onslaught continues. Every day, the oil comes in with the tide. It spreads up into the marsh grass, coating it. Then heated by the sun, it melts and drips back down into the marsh. At night, they still spray their toxic dispersants. No, things are not OK in Plaquemine's Parish. And they won't be for a very long time.

In this recent video, Kindra gives us the latest on public health (or the lack of it) in the Gulf. Kindra and her friends Joanie and Vicky of the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana are running ongoing fund drives for Gulf families. Imagine you're a Gulf fisherman and your entire livelihood is gone. Many of these families have had no income since April. Now, they're faced with having their electricity turned off, and making decisions as to whether they should be food or medicine for their kids.

Video thanks to Project Gulf Impact at

The Coastal Heritage Society's website includes links to a kids wish list where you can buy toys through It's a snap and nothing feels quite as good as spreading a little Christmas cheer, right?

You can follow their progress and get Gulf news straight from the Bayou (and even catch up with their archived shows) on blogtalk radio at

It's going to be a long hard road, but if anyone can win this war, it's these folks. I feel it in my heart.