This fall I will return to New Orleans. I was there in 2004 and discovered a place of food and music unlike anywhere I had ever been. It was a city of old soul: tired, beaten down yet rich in life.
Since then the area has seen two major disasters that served to heightened their day to day struggles of impoverishment and routine hardship; Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. The first weakened the spirit of the people. The second is destroying their very life blood; the waters around them.
This article highlights the loss, not just a food source, but a way of life.
By: Rowan Jacobsen
“Dey tellin’ everybody everything’s OK,” he said, in the region’s ubiquitous Cajun accent, which features a lot of dis and dat. “And it’s not. The crabs are not getting fat. A lot of dem are dying right when dey shed. The biologists say everything’s normal. Well, shit. We out here on the water almost every day of our lives. We know what changes from one day to the next. Where the little crabs? Before BP hit, they’d be all over this boat. Where dey at? We screwed.”
Melancon had no oysters for us. He took us out to his leases in his 23-foot flat-bottomed boat to show us why. For an hour we motored gently through the calm, flat water, passing flocks of ibises and pelicans, until we moored the boat and Melancon winched up a cage. It surfaced dripping black slime. The oysters were coated in shiny goop. Melancon plunged his tongs into the water and pulled up a jiggling mound of black pudding.
“What the hell is that?” I asked.
Melancon scooped some up with his hand. It held like shaving cream. “I think it’s oil,” he said. “Look how it stains your hand. Dat’s carbon.” Grand Isle is the sandiest spot in Louisiana. Its reefs are normally a pleasing jumble of shell and grit. But when Melancon checked this one on August 26, two weeks before I arrived, it was buried under a foot of black gunk. “Dis land was clean,” he said. “Just shells and sand. Not all dis fuckin’ bullshit.”
If none of the seafood tested by NOAA showed oil contamination, how could the Gulf’s marine life be so affected? A recent paper by LSU biologist Andrew Whitehead provides a clue. Whitehead examined Gulf killifish—minnows that live in the marshes and are an important food source for many species—before, during, and after the oil hit. He found that even tiny amounts of oil caused genetic abnormalities and tissue damage in the fish, enough to impair their reproductive abilities. And you wouldn’t have known this simply by testing them for contamination.
“Though the fish may be safe to eat,” Whitehead said, summarizing the report, “that doesn’t mean they are capable of reproducing normally.” This problem may extend to other marine life. And many fishermen blame low yields on BP’s dispersants, though the scientific jury is still out.
“The dispersant is biodegradable,” said Ralph Portier, professor of environmental science and oceanography at LSU. “The oil is biodegradable. So we’re not worried about their presence over a long period. The real issue is whether the mixture of dispersant and oil made it to the marsh and had a catastrophic effect on key organisms. There are literally hundreds of scientists working on these problems, but right now there are too many variables and not enough data.”
Perched on his dock at the very edge of the Gulf, Blanchard has a unique vantage point to speculate on such things. And what he wanted to tell me was that the white shrimp season was a bust. “White shrimp are born on the beach,” he said. “Dey ain’t got a chance to go nowhere. Dey layin’ in polluted fuckin’ water. Dey dead! Unless dey like Jesus and can raise from the dead, dey ain’t comin’ back.
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We, as in the human we, can keep denying we are affecting this planet. We can keep clinging to the belief in a restorative power that will resurrect our dead ecosystem. We can keep burying our heads in the muck we create and say it will all be better tomorrow, or the next day or 5 years from now. But it isn't and it won't.
The North American governments, US and Canadian, are supporting big business while attacking environmental groups. Our leaders are consistently denying the realities of our fishermen and farmers - the very people who bring food to our tables.
If we, as in the human we, do not start getting our priorities in order the day of Beouf Gras will be gone and the season of fasting will be permanent.
I’m worried about my gumbo