A Cat On Its Ninth Life

Roseate Spoonbills

One of the most spectacular birds in the world, the Roseate Spoonbill, calls the disappearing Cat Islands home - at least for now.

The saying goes, a cat has nine lives, but we only ever see one, to us always the last.  In Louisiana’s Barataria Bay we are watching a cat die its ninth life – what’s harder still, we saw all eight before it, and stood callously by, watching.  This death has been senseless.

Last week I floated along helplessly watching.  I felt like the photos I was taking will not save it, only serve as part of a near future obituary.

This Cat is an island.  Actually no longer a single island, but a tattered strand of almost-islands.  The once single island has become so ragged our boat captain, Ron, who has been fishing and guiding these waters for a quarter century, just calls these marshy patches the Cat Islands, plural; even the nautical charts can’t keep up with this disappearing act.

A century ago Cat Islands was a single feisty feline living in Barataria Bay; The Bay was a wetland world of mangroves and brackish water marshes, islands of cypress and twisting bayous, exuberant with life.  Cat Islands was part of a great stretch of wetlands that fanned out across the south of Louisiana like a giant 1.5 million-acre skirt.  Today that skirt is tattered and torn, and fraying further with each high tide and passing storm.

Barataria Bay was a wild place back then.  At the back of the Bay were watery forests of cypress trees, some believed to be hundreds, if not thousands of years old, protected from the saline Gulf by acres of maze-like bayou.  People thrived here as well, shrimp-towns and Native American settlements alive with activity in the Bay, which is at the heart of a delta coast formed 3,000 years ago.  Along Barataria’s leading edge the Mississippi River had deposited enough silt to create islands which barriered the marshes like Cat from storm and tides.  Today Grand Terre and Grand Isle are Barataria’s loan sentries standing vigil against the hurricanes, oil and other intruders from the Gulf of Mexico.

Since the damming of Bayou Lafourche in 1904 cut off a steady supply of fresh water and nutrients, Barataria Bay marshes have begun a steady declined, rapidly accelerating over the past fifty years.  The choking of the Mississippi River in the 1930’s by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in the aftermath of the Great 1927 flood further accelerated marsh loss by restricting critical river sediments from spreading west along the coast and stemming the Gulf encroachment.

oil and gas channels in bayou

Over 4,000 miles of channels have been sliced through the Louisiana bayous to expedite access to and delivery of oil and gas - one half of a deadly duo killing America's aquatic heartlands. Once cut a channel tends to double its width every fourteen years - thin lines become massive allies welcoming the deadly saltwater and killing the marsh, in turn eroding sediments and converting land to lakes of brine.

But that was only half of a double-blow that literally cut the roots right out from under places like the Cat Islands.  The oil and gas industry has had a backdoor monopoly on the Louisiana bayou.  It was given a regulatory ‘Get out of jail free card’ to slice and dice the bayou without limits.  They passed ‘Go’ and gutted the Gulf wetlands with over 4,000 miles of channels to expedite access to and delivery of oil and gas.  As a result miles of marsh, mangrove, mudflats, sand ridges and cypress forest have been lost to the encroaching salt water of the Gulf.  A Gulf that used the arrow straight channels like express routes to poison the freshwater marsh.  It’s a familiar story in coastal Louisiana, where 2,000 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1930s.  Barataria Bay and next door neighbor Terrebonne Bay have suffered the worst, accounting for 85% of Louisiana’s coastal land loss, including Cat Islands.

gas facility in Louisiana bayou

Virtually limitless regulation, over decades of abuse have teamed with the choking of Mississippi River sediment flow to destroy one of the greatest wetlands on earth. Oil and gas infrastructure in the Louisiana bayou south of Houma.

The Gulf Coast of Louisiana has always been in a delicate dance with the sea.  A Google Earth view of the coast illustrates where, in their turn, each has led and each has followed, respectfully, over that past several thousand years.  But over the last century politics and petroleum have conspired to turn the vast wetlands of Louisiana into a watery dance floor all the Gulf’s.  The Cat Islands are on their last dance.

The marshes are an illusion of land, never so clear as on the radar screen aboard Capt. Ron’s boat.  For fifteen minutes we surfed over what appeared golden-brown solid terre firma on the chart, a.k.a. land.  In reality there was only water.  Shallow salty water only a few feet deep, the perfect welcoming mat for a category-rated hurricane to come waltzing in, then on into New Orleans, Baton Rouge or Lafayette, not to mention the hundreds of bayou towns along the way.  We know it will happen, it has happened, named most recently Rita, Ivan and Katrina.  It will happen again.

Near the final fragment of what use to be an island of marsh and mangroves we approached a shallow wafer of grasses virtually level with the surrounding waters.  I glanced over at the chart on the radar and was stunned.  The small black triangle representing us, our boat, was beached.  We were not only suppose to be beached on land, we were actually supposed to be high and dry on a sizable chunk of land.

Cat Islands, Barataria Bay

Looking out on what remains of a fragment of Cat Islands in Barataria Bay despite wealth of land assumed by the radar.

Cat Islands, Barataria Bay

Cat Islands, in Barataria Bay - the watery world of make believe realities. The red arrow points to the black triangle - our boat - and the red blob outlines all that exists of the land on the screen.

Since I began working on the BP oil disaster here in the Gulf, some 9 months ago, over 20 square miles of the coastal wetlands in Louisiana have simply vanished – poof! – gone for eternity!!  Imagine another island that size disappearing, say Manhattan (a.k.a. New York City)?  How much would we be spending to save it?

Brown Pelicans, Cat Islands, LA

Refusing to accept the inevitable - Brown Pelicans cling to the last few inches of what remains of a mangrove marsh in the disintegrating Cat Islands, Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

When Ret. Commander Tad Allen and President Barak Obama said last spring the environmental disaster in the Gulf was equivalent to war on our shores they were clueless that the frontline of that war was washing away beneath their feet as they spoke. The oil coming ashore they and the nation were so worried about was merely a battle, the real war has been going on for decades.  We have been losing that war.

“If a foreign enemy were taking away twenty-five square miles of American soil from us every year—year after year—just taking it away from this nation and not giving it back, we would certainly go to war to stop it, wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we?” – from Bayou Farewell

If you want to feel, not just see, what we are losing, read Bayou Farewell, author Mike Tidwell’s personal, poignant journey into the bayous and back roads of our national loss.  A tale of a nation too blind to see its folly, too proud to admit its faults, to greedy to change the future.  We are starving and carving up the greatest wetlands in North America: home to enormous riches; cultural, economic and wild.

Last years BP oil disaster spread millions of gallons of reddish copper crude into the marshes of Barataria Bay, the rookeries of the Cat Islands group, low and unprotected were some of the worst polluted.  While BP oil can not be blamed for the death of the bayou, the oil disaster, and the ‘cleanup effort’ of burning the marshes, only exacerbated and accelerated its demise.

burnt oil marsh in Bay Jimmy

BP oiled marsh in Bay Jimmy burnt to "cleanup" the problem - excelling erosion by 20-30 feet along the marsh edge.

It’s an oddly fatal experience to watch the world disappear before your eyes.  To see birds attempt to construct nests in dead and dying mangroves that exist only for the generation of chicks they are currently raising.

A lingering line from Bayou Farewell is sobering.  It haunts my travels away from this magical wetlands, a place I have come to love; I feel like a traveler returning to a tragic, ultimately doomed affair. “If you want to see what will consume the energies of Miami and New York, Shanghai and Bombay, fifty years from now,” Tidwell writes, “come to Louisiana today. The future really is here.”


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Neutral Doesn’t Mean No Forward Progress

Journalism has been eroded pretty badly over the past couple decades.  Journalistic efforts and ethics in most cases have been replaced by “media.”  An toxic beast of a charismatic nature.  You can blame the 24 hour news cycles, tabloid journalism, reality media, etc.,  but this once honored and principled covenant between real news reporting (Journalism) and the public has all but disappeared over the last half century, faster than the Louisiana bayou.  What does survive is a handful of Journalists – with a capitol J – their respect for their craft and for the events they cover keeping them afloat.

When I came to the Gulf my goal was to remain as neutral as possible – I wasn’t coming to bury an axe in the back of BP – I wanted to be as Journalistic as possible.  In fact, the longer I work these coastal waters the less interested I am in BP and the more driven I am in telling a story that might… maybe… possibly… awake a few Americans to the enormous national treasure we are destroying – the Gulf Coast.  Few nations on earth can boast such a gift of natural, cultural and economic richness.  And few nations have been so arrogant as to destroy such a treasure.  The likes of BP, and to a greater extent the entire oil and gas industry, are just a part of that destructive nightmare. Only a part.

Working in the Gulf it has become increasingly difficult to remain neutral when faced with soaring levels of dishonesty, lying, protective self-interest at all cost, and collusive actions designed and executed to play to the media, in turn deceiving both Journalists and the public.  While the pressure by law enforcement personnel and BP bouncers has fallen more precipitously than the volume of oil found on beaches, and the flight restrictions are, well, gone, sky’s the limit, there remains this uneasy pressure on Journalists to quit digging, to resume life as normal, and quit focusing on what could be, what might happen, and certainly what did happen.

The story here is much bigger than BP, it needs Journalists.  It spans a century of oil and gas, twice that of shady politics, and the conditioning of human history, to a believe that what we do at the edge of the sea, regardless of how destructive, how toxic, how insane, will just wash out with the next tide.

The Gulf is a deeply critical American story, now of global importance, it needs Journalists who remain neutral, but keep pushing forward, not only until its told, but until it’s heard.

As I reminded someone, a local politician, disinterested enough in over-hearing my conversation with a local fisherman that he therefore felt compelled to insert his opinion – “all you media have an axe to grind” – neutral doesn’t mean no forward progress towards the truth.

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Loss of Life and National Treasure Worth $374,062

I’m not against capitalism, free-enterprise and the American-way-of-life… although I firmly believe all of those are, as the Hopi would call it – Koyaanisqatsi – life out of balance.

Occasionally that state of Koyaanisqatsi is made more insane by an umbrella of indecency:

Transocean Execs Get Bonuses For ‘Best Year In Safety,’ Despite Gulf Disaster

The excellent safety record of Transocean, in partnership with BP and Halliburton, last year cost 11 men their lives, polluted hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands and beaches and injured tens of thousands (at least) of sea creatures.  One fears the consequences of a poor safety record.

By the way, a commission appointed by President Barack Obama earlier this year said the explosion was caused by a series of time and money-saving decisions by Transocean, BP and oil services company Halliburton Inc. that created an unacceptable amount of risk.

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If Oysters Were Pelicans We Might “Make it right”

Oysterman Nick Collins

Oysterman Nick Collins dumps another basket of dead oysters on deck - nearly a year after the BP oil disaster and the Collins family's 100 year old oyster reefs near Grand Isle are a marine mortuary.

Today I waded into the future waters of Barataria Bay with oystermen Nick Collins, Jules Melancon and Jim Gossen, President & CEO of Louisiana Foods Global Seafood Source (the guy that buys the oysters the rest of us eat) as well as writer Rowan Jacobsen, author of the just released Shadows on the Gulf, the spring Gulf sun was bright, the future of oysters less so.

For hundreds of years oysters have been a dietary delight of bayou folks – first the native Americans, then Cajuns, and lately the rest of us.  But these crusty bivalves are more than just haute cuisine on the half-shell.  Stoically they sit in the marsh, filtering the crossing current, like cattle grazing a pasture, for phytoplankton.  Oysters have been unflatteringly referred to as ‘kidneys of the sea’, there’s some biological truth to that slight.  They are, in the purest sense, what they eat.  Perhaps more over, the place they flourish – the shallow bayou fertilized waters of the Gulf Coast – ARE the kidneys, and wombs, of the sea.

In turn oysters are to the Gulf coastal wetlands what canaries are to coal mines, when the bayou-marsh environment is healthy they sing a gastronomic song like no other, but their song sours with the slightest altercation in that environment.  Last April’s BP oil disaster sent over 200 million gallons of light crude into the Gulf and a nice slice of that swept into the Louisiana  bayou-marsh environment – prime oyster habitat.  Then BP iced the cake with at least 2 million** gallons of toxic dispersant (Corexit).  To off-set them both the state (Louisiana) unleashed millions of gallons of Mississippi River water (its own chemical soup) into the bayou, ostensibly to flush the pollutants out or keep them out – good idea, bad science.  The impact: oysters not only sang their swan song, they were also in the midst of producing a new generation of singers.  For now, silence.

Exactly why the oysters are dying and dead is a nasty case of finger pointing:

Louisiana to spend $12 million on wetlands, oyster beds, and send BP the billBy Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

“For months and months, we’ve all watched BP spend millions of dollars on commercials,” said Robert Barham, secretary of the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. “Time after time, they say, ‘We’re here for the long haul. We’re going to make it right.”

“Make it right” is perhaps one of the most ambiguous catch phrases to be spun out of the BP-Obama PR machine.  What does it really mean?  Everyone from Oystermen to hotel owners to even BP’s own cleanup workers seem clueless to define it – the beauty of a great media catch-phrase.

Cajun oysterman Nick Collins is uncertain anyone can make this right as he dumps another basket of dead oysters on the deck – nearly a year has passed since the BP oil disaster and the Collins family’s 100-year-old oyster reefs near Grand Isle are virtually a marine mortuary.  Nick hauled four baskets of oysters up from four separate locations for us to see, an estimated 2,500 oysters, we found ten live bivalves.  This time of year he said they should be pulling 60-100 sacks of oysters a day for market off this reef.  That’s thousand of live oysters.

“See all dees, if dey where birds, a couple thousand foat’n here,” Nick looks from the table piled with dead grey-brown oysters out across the water from where they were just drawn, “den people woulds be really upset.  But dey don’t float dey just sit dead on da bottom.”

Absolutely!  It was like someone just slapped me upside the head: Imagine a couple thousand dead pelicans floating on the surface – a media frenzy!  A BP nightmare. Then we might start understanding what it means to “Make it right.”

** BP’s officially acknowledged figure for release of the toxic dispersant Corexit 9500 (initially) and later Corexit 9527 has been 1.8 million gallons – including that released at the Macondo well head some 5,000 feet down on the Gulf seafloor – before the well was capped on July 15, 2010.  Many contend, including Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), this figure is far less than was actually dispersed by BP.   “On June 16, Markey notes, BP told the Coast Guard that its use of Corexit had never exceeded 3,365 gallons in any recent day. Yet e-mails to Congress told a different story. In fighting the Gulf oil spill on June 12 and 13, the e-mails noted, BP used 14,305 gallons 36,000 gallons respectively.” It was also illegal to spray the toxic dispersant in the marshes or at night – both of which were done, as countless shrimpers, oystermen, Vessels of Opportunity capitans and coastal residence will swear – they heard the planes at night and in some cases were sprayed upon.  The real volume only BP knows and with them it remains.

One additional note: By the EPA’s own tests, Corexit is more toxic and less effective than 12 other products on the market. BP, however, refused to comply with the EPA demand to halt its use, saying no other manufacturers could meet its overwhelming Gulf needs. The Obama administration ultimately capitulated.

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“There baaaaack”

oil on Fort Morgan beach 12.28.10

Will Gulf's winds and waves keep reminding us in 2011 of the high price of a carbon-based life-style? Oil in patties, pancakes, balls and blobs keeps washing ashore across the Gulf Coast. Photo above from Ft Morgan Alabama 12.28.2010 - three months later more is appearing, along with new oil from a mystery location.

Sounding a bit like a broken record here, but this new spate of oil rolling up on the Gulf Coast beaches from Fort Morgan, Alabama to Timbalier Islands Louisiana can’t be surprising anyone – can it?

Emulsified oil, oil mousse and tar balls from an unknown source have been washing up on beaches from Grand Isle to West Timbalier Island along the Gulf of Mexico, a stretch of about 30 miles, a Louisiana official said. It was still heading west Monday afternoon. – The Times-Picayune

Almost a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Grand Isle residents experienced a bit of deja vu. – Houmatoday.com

The crude [origin yet to be identified] began washing up on stretches of Louisiana’s shoreline late Saturday and continued to foul beaches through Monday, including on Elmer’s Island, a state wildlife refuge. The Coast Guard said that crude has accumulated on stretches amounting to about a half-mile. – Wall Street Journal

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, March 22, 2011 (ENS) – An unidentified oily substance began washing ashore on the Louisiana coast on Sunday, prompting the U.S. Coast Guard, with state and local agencies, to conduct clean up and recovery operations of tainted beaches. – Environmental News Network

“They’re baaaack,”  no not the TV people, the BP cleanup people.

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Dolphin Deaths Deserve More Answers Than Questions

Bottle-nose Dolphins

A pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins (Tursiops truncata) off the Alabama coast in late December 2010, a month before the death

This is “normally” dead dolphin season along the Gulf Coast, but 2011 has a haunting, downstream-impact feeling about it; fueled by a “higher than average” number of still-born and baby dolphins washing ashore in the marshes and on the beaches along 200 miles of the Gulf Coast. Exactly why? Connecting the dots, or dolphins, can be a tricky business, and any good scientist, or journalist, worth their salt would be hesitant to venture too far from the facts and into the murky waters of opinion.

Without much sleuthing facts are surfacing.  The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) issued this February 25, 2011 media release:

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies would like to confirm that further dolphin strandings have been reported since our last press release on Wednesday, February 23, 2011. The total count for the year now stands at 34 strandings, with 27 of these involving calves. This brings the total number of strandings for the year in Mississippi to 18 with 12 of these involving calves. Alabama’s total now stands at 16 with 15 of the strandings involving calves.

We are continuing to collect samples from the animals where possible to conduct tissue analysis for age and genetics as well as toxicology, histopathology, virology and parisitology. These samples are sent to laboratories outside of the IMMS and due to the extensive processes involved and the high number of samples to be tested, we do not expect any immediate results.

What’s unusual about this dead dolphin season is the number and kind, babies, making a few scientists deviate cautiously into those murky, possibly oily, waters of opinion.  The message posted on the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) reinforces the seriousness of the events:

Dead baby dolphin strandings are occurring in significantly higher than average numbers in Mississippi and Alabama. This has caused NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event in the area. The dolphin calves are being examined by staff and volunteers from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. If you see a stranded marine mammal in Mississippi or Alabama please call the IMMS stranding hotline 1-888-SOS- DOLPHIN (1-888-767-3657).

This is the first post-BP oil disaster calving season for the up to 5,000 bottle-nosed dolphins that call the Gulf of Mexico home.  In fact this spring brings forth births of all kinds, pelicans, terns, black skimmers and other sea and shore birds, sea turtles, fishes, shrimp, crabs, oysters and a bevy of benthos creatures the shapes and names of which are closer to patrons of a Star Wars bar than Earthlings most of us recognize.

Despite the silence in the media there are a number of scientists from across the Gulf – not bound by the BP non-disclosure gag order – that are looking carefully and hard at what this coming season will portend; not just for the first year after the BP disaster, but for many years to come.  This comes as independent administrator Kenneth Feinberg announced this week, “The Gulf of Mexico should recover from the massive BP oil spill by the end of 2012.″

The death toll, known and reported, from the previous ten months, post- the greatest human-caused environmental disaster, is small, or “manageable” as I was told: about 7,000 various seabirds, 600 sea turtles, and millions of other creatures too small to register on the human conscience scale.  But will the death toll rise?  And what epitaph will be inscribed – collateral damage or direct death?

The remains of 77 animals – nearly all bottlenose dolphins – have been discovered on islands, in marshes and on beaches along 200 miles of coastline. This figure is more than 10 times the number normally found washed up around this time of year, which is calving season for some 2,000 to 5,000 dolphins in the region. Another seven dead animals were reported yesterday, [Feb 21, 2011] although the finds have not yet been confirmed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

One of the more disturbing aspects of the deaths is that nearly half – 36 animals so far – have been newborn or stillborn dolphin calves. In January 2009 and 2010, there were no reports of stranded calves, and because this is the first calving season since the BP disaster, scientists are concerned that the spill may be a cause.

“The number of baby dolphins washing ashore now is new and something we are very concerned about,” NOAA spokeswoman Blair Mase said. She said that the agency had declared the alarming cluster of deaths “an unusual mortality event”, adding: “Because of this declaration, many resources are expected to be allocated to investigating this.”

Bottlenose dolphins, like Gulf Coast resident humans, sit atop the Gulf food chain.  During the BP oil disaster their surface air-breathing world was toxified.  Every breath they took was laden with off-gasing oil and Corexit (dispersant), and every fish on which they fed was likewise compromised.  That air and nutrition was on an expressway to the gestating fetus.  (The Bottlenose gestation period averages 12 months.)

Preferring to travel a cautionary road, scientists at the independent Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama suggested last week (Feb 16) that unusually chilly water temperatures in the Gulf may be a key factor. They were quoted by Reuters:

“Everyone wants to blame toxicity due to the oil spill, said Monty Graham, a senior scientist at the Dauphin Island lab. “The oil spill … very well could have been the cause of the dolphin deaths. But the cold weather could have been the last straw for these animals.”

He noted that water temperatures abruptly plunged from the upper 50s into the 40s off Dauphin Island in January, just before the first two stillborn calves found there were recovered. He said a second wave of dolphin carcasses washed ashore after temperatures dipped again.

Fellow Dauphin Island scientist Ruth Carmichael called the arrival of the cold snap “incredibly compelling.”

“The timing of the cold water may have been important because the dolphins were late in their pregnancies, about one to two months from giving birth. That might render them more vulnerable to temperature shocks,” she said.

But NOAA officials discounted the significance of chilly weather, saying a similar cold snap in February 2010, months before the oil spill, was accompanied by higher-than-normal mortality among a range of wildlife, including fish and sea turtles. They also cited research showing bottlenose dolphins tend to swim away from extremely cool waters.

“These animals have the ability to move away from cold. They don’t stay around in cold water,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Food chains do not surrender their secrets easily.  They are complex, intricate and filled with pathways we humans rarely if ever travel.  It is understandable that the journey will be filled with dead ends and circuitous paths, but our scientists have to be brave enough venture into the unknown. Clearly products of the BP disaster are present and still poisoning the wind and waters of the Gulf.   To believe that is not the case is not cautionary science it is cowardly science.

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The BP Disaster – Thank God It’s Over!

BP oil disaster

This is all the American public really wanted in the end, just someone to step up and tell us when this greatest of human-caused environmental disasters would be over – period.  Don’t bog our lives down with endless media reports and guilt.  Finally, thanks to Kenneth Feinberg, independent administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) we can finally go back to the rest of our lives.  The Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Coast are nearly healthy once more.

Feinberg finally cleared our oil addicted conscious, the “The Gulf of Mexico should recover from the massive BP oil spill by the end of 2012″

He should know, he is the independent administrator of the $20bn victims compensation fund (Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF).)

“By that time, most of the harmful effects of the worst offshore oil spill in US history will have dissipated and the economy should have picked up,” said Feinberg.

Thank god it’s over!

In an unrelated story:

“This year [2010] Cordova [Alaska, in the bull’s eye of the Exxon Valdez disaster] opened shrimp fishing for the first time since 1989”

Assuming Feinberg actually was independent and cared, he would be wise to read a BBC article from last July that considered the “healing” after a disaster; one considerably smaller than BP, a mere 11 million gallons of crude.  “Before the BP accident in the Gulf of Mexico, America’s worst offshore oil leak was the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Twenty-one years later, the BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani went to a nearby fishing village to see how its people had recovered – and found not all of them had.  … 21 years after one of the worst environmental disasters in US history, it remains scarred.”

Independent is the operative word here.  Mega-corporations facing mega-fines don’t leave anything to the vagaries of an “independent administrator.”  Considering BP is paying the man in charge of overseeing its $20 billion victim compensation fund for its devastation of the Gulf of Mexico over $10 million a year, his independence is conflicted at best. So outlandish is independent administrator Feinberg’s compensation from BP that it has even come under critical fire from normally oily politicians like Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) – better know for his dubious listing on the “D.C. Madams” phone records.

In the slogan sappy effort to “make it right” BP has so far disbursed around $3.5 billion of the $20 billion it agreed to “set aside”, in a pact with the Obama Administration.  The question now appears to be who defines “right” and when is over over?  Just as recently as last November chemist Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in testing for chemical markers, hunted down BP’s crude fingerprints out in the field all along the coast, in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida’s panhandle.

“I’ve found there’s still huge amounts of BP crude oil on the sediment soils, in the wetlands, on the vegetation, and in the tissue in the oysters, crabs and mussels.”

That BP crude fingerprint contained dangerously high levels of volatile organic chemicals including Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and Hexane.  That’s the same seafood declared safe that month – only three months ago – by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, jointly with the Food and Drug Administration, saying that after a second round of testing they again found no harmful traces of the chemical Corexit, the dispersant used to contain the spill that was feared to be even more toxic than the oil itself.  The results were that fish, oysters, crab and shrimp from the Gulf are safe for consumption.

More recently Supra spoke to a forum in New Orleans about testing she has been conducting in both coastal fisheries and humans, (reported on Nola.com) she said, “The effects will be felt for generations,” ticking off a wide range of symptoms she said result from exposure to crude oil and Corexit. “This is what we have to look forward to.”

Continuing…

Subra said the Food and Drug Administration declared in September that Gulf seafood was free from contaminants, but later modified its statement to state only that the level of toxins found was below levels of danger set by the agency. The problem, Subra said, was the methodology used to set the toxicity threshold. “They said a normal seafood diet would be four jumbo shrimp a week,” she said. “How many of you, when you eat jumbo shrimp, only eat four?”

A division of the National Institutes of Health has started a program to track the long-term health effects of the spill [found here]. According to an online description, the study began with telephone interviews with more than 55,000 people — Gulf Coast residents, Coast Guard and National Guard members — who were involved in the cleanup. The long-term tracking will focus on about 25,000 of them.

Subra said the study, financed in part with $10 million from BP, is fundamentally flawed because it doesn’t include the broader Gulf Coast population and, more important, doesn’t offer care to those being studied.

BP oil cleanup crew 2/26/2011

BP oil cleanup crew continue to sift, scrape and haul polluted beach sands on the Gulf Coast barrier islands - photo February 26, 2011

In three blog postings I am scrambling to get up here we have bottle-nosed dolphin deaths, weathered oil surfacing on beaches, and marshes that will need to be ripped out if BP is to “make it right” the stubborn and lingering oil pollution.  All coming after I flew last week over the barrier islands and coastal marshes of Louisiana only to see the ever-present BP cleanup crews raking beaches, filling plastic bags, and huge machines still ripping up beach sands because last April’s crude oil won’t “dissipate.”  Maybe Mr. Feinberg should venture out there and remind the disaster it only has until 2012 to “right” itself.

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