I always try to prepare myself for somewhere I've never been. I don't know why I do that, maybe it's just the planner/scheduler German blood in me. Nothing could have prepared me for the moment that we climbed up on a large sand dune on a Grand Isle Louisiana beach. Right before our very eyes a terrible scene of devastation came into view. I wanted to get a video of my reaction to share with students and our friends here online; my conscious said, "just record this moment to have forever". As we got closer to the very visible and noxious pools of oil, the thought ran through my mind that this was only the beginning. I decided to traverse the orange tubes separating the beach from the high tide mark, out of intense curiosity and sheer stupidity. I know now that the hazmat training will be essential to cleaning up hundreds--thousands of miles of crude-oil covered surfaces. We learned so much today from the agencies on the ground. Getting a straight answer about volunteer efforts on the ground proved to be unfruitful, but we did learn of many hazmat training opportunities. What's upsetting is the feeling of helplessness. On one beach on one small island, the word to describe the scene would be: frustration.
The helicopters buzzed the shore from above, while coast guard officials and BP representatives combed the beaches stopping people like us. We just wanted to get an idea of what we are in for, but to actually see it brings about a mixture of inspiration and desperation. I can't imagine what the local residents are feeling. We can certainly sympathize, but to empathize? I promise you, it's not easy. For those who live on the island, their futures are changed forever. For those who vacation there, the promise of tranquility is purloined at least for an entire generation.
I tried to think of words to describe the exponentially difficult task at hand dealing with the wildlife and cleanup. Difficult doesn't begin to describe the situation. Onerous perhaps? Yeah that's it, "onerous", labor intensive and troublesome. One almost has to laugh in light of Murphy's Law proving itself yet again. The truth, however, remains that out of all of the devastation comes glimmers of hope. For now we're here. We're proving that getting trained isn't hard, getting down here is possible, and there is a need. If we listened to the big new "relief" organizations, we would be heading home. Without much difficulty, one may find that giving a few days to restore the gulf isn't impossible. We came down amongst some of the first to cut through the red tape. The images we are providing detail only the beginning. As we learned, there will be opportunity to volunteer for years to come. We just found out that the real work is being done by the least likely and least publicized efforts.
Yesterday, President Obama outlined the efforts of the response to this "uncontrolled leak" (it is NOT a spill) as consisting of the following:
- 17,500 National Guard troops authorized for deployment. And they are certainly deployed!
- 20,000 people are currently working to protect waters and coastlines. We're not so sure about this.
- 1,900 vessels are in the Gulf assisting in the clean up. Thanks to out of work fisherman.
- 4.3 million feet of boom deployed with another 2.9 million feet of boom available, enough to stretch over 1,300 miles. My question is why there isn't 7.1 million feet of boom deployed (4.3m + the 2.9m just sitting there) with another 3 million on the way?
- 17,500 National Guard troops authorized for deployment. And we will need them, but lets hope they get hazmat training and start scrubbing.
- 17 staging areas across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to rapidly defend sensitive shorelines. Okay, I get a little confused here. What do they mean by staging? And only 17? It took 2 hours and 110 miles to get to Grand Isle from New Orleans... there's roughly 850 miles of American Gulf Coast shoreline... we're going to need more than seventeen staging areas. The Grand Island staging area was overwhelmed with just the local shores!
So while I go off on the negative, it's possible to leave you with this: Through activism and actual work on the ground, the cleanup has begun. But I must emphasize that it's only just begun. With assurance, volunteers will be needed for many months to come. Also, if you're considering working down in the gulf area, the clean-up industry is booming, and with that comes at least a glimmer of hope.
All the best,
Gordon ~Twitter @restorethegulf