Coastkeeper speaks out

From Chasidy Fisher Hobbs, Coastkeeper
Emerald Coastkeeper, Inc.

I am YOUR Coastkeeper. When I took on this job I agreed to fight for swimmable, drinkable waters at all costs. I take my job very seriously. YOU are fisherfolk, property owners, recreational water users, and citizens of the Gulf Coast.

Since becoming your Coastkeeper I have taken on many battles small and large. The most recent, as you are all unfortunately aware, involves the BP Deepwater Horizon oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. I started my service to you by trying to help make sense of all of the information out there regarding this tragedy. I have shared information on what volunteers can, and more recently cannot, do; on what property owners should and should not do; and on what fisherfolk and other citizens can expect. Unfortunately it seems that as soon as I find reliable information it changes, which has been equally as frustrating for me as for you, I assure you.

In the beginning of this madness my efforts were focused on the protection of inland waterbodies and coastlines. I felt that if we could limit the impact of oil to our outermost coastlines. As devastating as that would be, it would be better than dealing with the bigger tragedy of our inland waters and coastlines being affected. I was very excited to report that local action plans to do just that were accepted by Unified Command thanks to the exhausting work of many locals.

Much of our efforts in preparation and protection thus far have been centered on keeping oil off our shorelines with booms. I believe we all envisioned another Exxon Valdez, our shores being blanketed by oil in the next “72 hours”. Seemingly fortunate for our communities, this does not appear to be what is in store for us.

Since Earth Day we have learned that the initial estimates by BP and our government of zero, 1000 barrels, and then 5000 barrels of gushing oil per day have been grossly underestimated. We have heard BP officials say that the true volume of oil spilled is irrelevant. We have learned that roughly 640,000 gallons of dispersants have been used to keep the oil off the surface of the Gulf, and that these dispersants could be more toxic than the oil itself. We have learned that volunteers with intimate knowledge of local areas will not be utilized; rather they will have to be hired by BP if they want to help, and they will be expected to sign, at the very least, a confidentiality agreement. We have heard of too many fisherfolk and business owners to count who are already suffering the consequences of this unfortunate disaster, even before oil has visibly made landfall.

All of this we know; what we do not know may be much worse.

We have learned that the majority of the gushing oil is no longer on the surface – it is in the water column and on the Gulf floor, and we do not know how effective booms will be in protecting us from this. We do not know why BP was allowed to drill in mile deep water without a plan to avoid this kind of situation. We do not know how much oil is in our Gulf. We do not know how to test for the dispersants in our local waterways. We do not know the health implications to hundreds of Gulf species, nor do we do know the health implications to humans caused by this terrible event. We do not know which waivers we should sign and those that are not worth the compensation for our lost wages. We have no idea what to expect, and we are left clamoring for answers and speculating about the safety of our decisions.

It is absolutely NOT my intention to make the incredibly unfortunate circumstance that our local fisherfolk and business owners have to endure even worse. I would be more than happy to tell the world that I overreacted. I am confident in saying that there is no oil on our beaches and if you want to volunteer to help during this terrible tragedy then come on down and support a local.

However, I am gravely concerned about what we have not been told – specifically about the hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersants used. These chemicals pull oil into the water column where us locals, and the world watching, cannot see it. I am not a chemist, but the limited knowledge we have on these products causes me to pause and question the message that our beaches and seafood are safe. I am also very concerned about the effectiveness of boom protection now that most of the oil is no longer floating. The Waterkeepers and I have been working tirelessly to get the information needed to make informed decisions. I am headed back to Incident Command in Mobile today to try to find these answers; I hope we have them sooner rather than later.