First Impressions from Oil Spill Ground Zero

National Wildlife Federation Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Jaime Matyas is in Louisiana this week with NWF’s on the ground team touring areas devastated by the oil spill. Here is her first report from the scene at Myrtle Grove Marina.

On my first day in Louisiana, we headed south from New Orleans to a marina in Plaquemines Parish. Our plans to head out to see the oil were delayed by several passing thunderstorms. While we waited at the dock for clear weather, I struck up a conversation with two watermen that seemed approachable. Brian and Mike were eager for the dark cell to pass so they could get back to work. They’ve been spending 12 hours a day on the water, on their flat bottom boat vacuuming up oil from water and depositing it in large drums on a separate boat.

Mike began shrimping with his dad when he was a small boy and was planning to shrimp this season until the BP spill hit in April. Brian, who is much older, grizzled and tan, advised that I wear lots of lotion and drink 1 Gatorade for every 2 bottles of water in the smoldering Louisiana heat.

When asked how the BP oil spill makes him feel, Brian stopped, seemingly caught off guard by being asked about his feelings in this public setting. A moment later he replied, “It hurts,” tapping his clenched fist to his heart, “right here.”

“It’s like a cancer,” he continued. “It oozes in and attaches itself to the edge of the marsh. The high tide carries the oil further into the marsh, leaving it behind as the tide withdraws.” For anyone that has received a cancer diagnosis, the reference instantaneously conjures up feelings of dread and of a desire to quickly expel the presence of the deadly invader.

When the storm finally subsided and I headed for our boat, I asked both men what they thought was needed to help this tragic situation. With a split second pause, Brain replied “the right attitude, enough with the finger pointing. Just get ’em all in a room, sit ‘em down and work it out.”

Watch this video to find out what Jaime saw when she finally made it out on the water in Louisiana’s Bay Jimmy.

You can see more photos from the trip on Flickr & more NWF videos on YouTube.

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Published: June 24, 2010