Six Months After the Gulf Oil Disaster: Some Like to Remember, Some Like to Forget

“It’s a little bit like a hurricane,” said my wife, Belinda. “You get all worried and prepare for it to hit, then the hurricane doesn’t come and you’re relieved and happy. But you know it’s going to affect someone else.”

The Florida Keys did not suffer a direct hit from the 206 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude that poured from BP’s broken well in the Gulf of Mexico. But the people who live along this 110-mile-long chain of islands experienced many of the feelings as their neighbors along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida Panhandle.

“People were calling and asking how much oil we had, not did we have any oil,” said Deb Gillis, who owns three Islamorada motels. “Business just dropped. I’m sure the overall economy had something to do with the general drop in bookings but people really thought we got hit by the spill,” she added.

Tourism, the primary economic driver in the Florida Keys, took a brief hit.

Then Florida’s state and local tourism marketing machines kicked into high gear. Tourism trickled back. Many business owners in the Keys tried to forget their close call with economic disaster.

Nearly six months after the spill, the communications director of a major Keys attraction, who asked to remain anonymous, responded to an interview request writing, “The intense media focus on the Keys and the oil spill has finally died down. We honestly don’t think there’s anything positive about keeping the Keys-oil connection out there in public consciousness at this time. We’re concerned that additional stories might reinforce or rejuvenate the perception that the islands are in eminent [sic] peril from the Deepwater Horizon.”

Others in the community try to remember.

Father John Peloso

“Every Sunday we mention anybody who was affected,” said Father John Peloso, pastor of San Pedro Catholic Church in the Keys. “Every Sunday we still pray for people in the Gulf, people in the Panhandle. We don’t just pray for the people, which always comes first of course, we pray for the actual environment,” he added.

Trae Kerdyk, a senior at the Palmer Trinity School in Palmetto Bay, Florida when the spill happened said, “The fact that we go on living our lives the way we did before the spill shows that we have not learned our lesson.”

Now a college freshman Kerdyk added, “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have left a sour taste in many people’s mouths, but few have done anything proactive to ensure that there will not be another spill off of our coasts. It has been said many times, but the importance of breaking our addiction to oil cannot be stressed enough.”

Father Peloso, a Florida native spent some years as a professional hard hat diver before entering the priesthood. He camps in the Everglades, dives the Florida reefs, fishes in both salt and fresh water.

“When it hit, I was in a little bit of shock. I said ‘man I’ve been thinking about this since I was a kid growing up in the Everglades.’ The state of Florida is my backyard. I was angry. It was like how dare these people ruin my Florida,” he said.

Peloso concluded, “Philosophically, humanity and the earth live together like a marriage. And in a marriage you have to love and respect one another. That’s how closely and intimately humanity itself depends on the earth. And unless everybody starts being more aware of how to treat nature with love and respect these things are going to happen.”