Water Health Educator
Gallery: Deepwater Horizon
On April 20, 2010, news broke that BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, dumping 25,000 barrels of oil per day into the ocean. Although the well head has been capped since July 15, 2010, residents of the Gulf region feel that the aftermath of the ecological disaster is far from over.
While on field study in Pensacola, Florida in early July 2010, it was apparent to me that Gulf residents represent a wide spectrum of opinions and emotions regarding the disaster. From mothers concerned about the health of their children to business owners worried about their bottom line, many people shared their views about how Deepwater Horizon has personally or professionally affected their lives. More apparent, however, were emotions of either severe depression or blatant apathy, both of which incensed a social movement of “coastal warriors” who refuse, even now, to be quieted. It is their passion and determination to be heard that inspired a study about their commitment to the region.
The Gulf region, which includes states Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are made up of a diverse people, most of which derive an income from farming, tourism and fishing. Post Hurricane Katrina in 2006, the National Center for Children in Poverty reported that 38% of children in the Gulf states region were living in poverty, among the highest percentages in the Nation, and post Deepwater Horizon, Gulf states rank among the top ten states for poverty in the nation. Mississippi, ranked first, has a poverty rate of 21.6%, Louisiana at 19.4%, and Texas and Alabama at 16%. Florida, thanks to active tourism industry, which includes areas such as Orlando, Miama and the Keys, ranks much lower. However, according to an Oxford Economics Study, Deepwater Horizon is projected to cost the Gulf states tourism industry over $22 million over the next three years.
Embedded within these percentages are the countless personal stories of hardship, pain, families separated and lives irrevocably changed. Within these stories are individual faces, fishermen unable to cope, turning to alcoholism and suicide, those determined to move on and get back to “business as usual,” mothers and fathers fearful for the health of their families, citizens dedicated to grassroots reporting in a quest to differentiate between truth and wrongful reporting, and still others who were empowered to give selfless hours to help those in need. With a population of more than 44 million, the Gulf states have a voice, one which is shared here in an ethnographic look at the frustration, fear, concern and, finally, hope.
Please read Katherine Fite’s paper on Deepwater Horizon and the personal accountings of those who have been so deeply affected.
While researching the “human” effects of Deepwater Horizon in Summer 2010, I met what can best be described as a charismatic blend of people who told their personal stories to me and given their permission to share with others, with the common goal that the rest of the nation should know of the significant impact of the oil spill on their lives. Especially now, six months after the oil well has been capped and the social networking posting has slowed and the mainstream media has all but halted any reporting on the region (although we are now hearing more reports about the corporate ramifications faced by BP), there are communities of Gulf residents who wish for it to be known that the aftermath is still not over in their cities. They do not want to be forgotten.
Photography by Eden Potter Photography