A blowout at the Macondo oil well five years ago today touched off what has since become known as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Oil washed ashore on long stretches of the Gulf of Mexico coast, killing animals and crippling communities. Last week we asked our readers to send us photos, video and written accounts of how the spill continues to affect their lives and livelihoods—including successes and failures in restoring the environment.
Overall, the responses indicate a few bright spots, but in many cases damage to ecosystems and fishing grounds has simply not been addressed. In large part this is because communities are still waiting for money from the government; 80 percent of the $13 billion BP paid in fines is supposed to go to states and communities most affected by the spill, but the money is still held up, waiting for a federal court to make final rulings on dispersement.
The long wait is hurting the seafood industry in the region. One person who responded to our request, Deborah Cotton, told us about the Community Voices Project, which she described as “a collection of video interviews with a diverse array of Gulf Coast residents who were profoundly affected by the spill.” The project, she said, “was created to ensure that the faces and words of the residents living the post-BP oil spill reality are seen and heard.” The videos, particularly of local fishermen, are engaging and give a real feel for bayou life and folks who are struggling to make a living because of the spill’s effects. One example is below.
Another reader, Jacques Hebert, sent a series of images that show how certain islands in the Gulf that were washed over by oil have become tattered wastelands. Hebert works with the Restore Mississippi River Delta campaign. One image, below, shows a tar ball he said was recently found on Grande Terre Island. He also sent a link to an article noting that in February a 25,000 pound (11,350-kilogram) tar mat of oil was found on East Grand Terre, and in March BP was cleaning it up. Hebert added that “up to 10 million gallons of oil were recently discovered on the Gulf floor, creating a ‘bathtub ring’ of oil the size of Rhode Island around the site of the disaster.”
Hebert made another point: land restoration is possible. As an example, he sent an image of new land created at the Lake Hermitage marsh, part of a larger project to rebuild wetlands.
PJ Hahn sent two images of Cat Island (below), one before the spill showing a vibrant ecosystem, and one after, revealing the oily destruction. Once a 2.5-hectare home to thousands of birds, “it has been reduced to open water,” he said. “Oil covered the mangrove trees and vegetation that flourished on the island, killing the plants and its roots. The root system is what keeps these islands in place.”
Today a small spit of sand from Cat Island remains, as seen in the following image from Hebert.
Scientific American has much more on the BP spill fallout, including an impressive graphic. Also featured is an interesting article about the mystery surrounding a large quantity of oil that has never been accounted for, after it poured up into the ocean from the rig’s ruptured wellhead—the spewing wellhead we all saw day after day in 2010 in that now-infamous underwater video.