NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – Ten years after the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Dean Blanchard of Grand Isle, Louisiana, is still haunted by what he witnessed.
“It was about three weeks after the spill and I was standing on the beach,” he remembers. “I saw a pelican flying crooked with blood coming out of him. I yelled for my buddies to take a look, and then this pelican crashed and died right in front of us. We walked over to it and it was covered in that thick brown oil.”
A few days later, he was on his dock and saw a dolphin with her calf – both also covered in oil.
“The baby was dead,” he says, “and that momma was just looking up at us with these eyes that were like, ‘Please help.’ Dolphins are smart animals, and I still can’t forget how scared those eyes looked.”
Blanchard operates one of America’s biggest shrimp distributors, Dean Blanchard Seafood, which has yet to fully recover from the aftereffects of one of the world’s worst oil disasters.
The calamity began when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by London-based BP, exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and injuring 17 more. By the time the well was capped in July of that year, more than 800 million liters of crude oil – some 5 million barrels – had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.
The environmental catastrophe devastated one of the world’s most productive aquatic ecosystems five years after Hurricane Katrina had decimated the region. Many of Louisiana’s coastal towns had been fighting for survival for years before oil began choking the region’s estuaries.
“We had lost 67% of our population after the storm,” said fishing charter captain Ryan Lambert of Buras, Louisiana. “We used to have orange groves employing people, but Katrina knocked those out.”
Fishing industry devastated
Buras sits near the end of the Mississippi River on a thin finger of land that snakes more than 100 kilometers into Gulf waters. In the years after the hurricane, Lambert said, what was left of the community centered on fishermen like him who decided to stay. The oil spill sunk what was left of the fishing industry.
“Once oil hit the beaches and the news showed all those animals covered in crude, my livelihood was done,” Lambert explained. “Nobody wanted to go on fishing trips.”
Some argue decisions made after the spill inflicted more harm, including the use of a chemical, Corexit, to disperse oil and keep it off the surface. Researchers say the chemical has increased toxicity in Gulf waters. Many locals blame it for a range of health problems suffered by fishermen and others along the Gulf Coast.
“Choices were made…