Flying with Bonny Schumaker from ‘On Wings of Care’ has been an eye opening experience. Bonny has been flying her souped up Cessna over these waters most days since the gusher broke loose in April. And with insights added by Samantha Whitcraft of Oceanic Defense, we were able to draw some pretty clear conclusions as to whether or not there is still oil out in the Gulf. And there most definitely is, and you can see it for yourself in this footage.
This disaster, which some experts estimate at 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez, is not over. With the copious amount of Corexit sprayed under and over the Gulf waters, much of the oil has dispersed, sunk, or otherwise become hidden from view. But there is no mistaking the vast areas of rainbow sheen on the surface of the ocean, stretching in patches as far as the eye can see to the horizon. As we approached, we all hoped that we were looking at areas of no wind where the sea surface would appear like glass. But as we got closer, the multicolored sheen made it clear. We were looking at oil. Seeing it in person, your mind really can’t grasp how much oil you’re looking at. It is mind boggling.
Another confusing thing out there is the sargassum weed, which looks deceivingly like crude oil, or what they call ‘mousse’ when seen from the air. The weed collects in lines, and is the same orange color as weathered crude. And we saw both. Today a BP employee told me at breakfast that there are still tar balls washing up on the islands off Mississippi. “This stuff is going to keep coming to the surface for a long time”, he said. In the next breath, he said that yes, BP is scaling back operations and removing more equipment & personnel every day.
The Gulf disaster is like having cancer. When the doctor first tells you, you panic and you feel as though your life has been ripped apart. Everything goes into high gear as you scramble to deal with the monster. But over time, if you survive, it becomes a long term management issue. It’s less dramatic but nevertheless, still very much there. Just like the dispersed oil, the disaster lives below the surface now. Even in many of the residents, it’s not something they talk about anymore. How can we make sure that the Gulf region is not forgotten? Every day that I am here, I see more evidence of the pull back.
In many of the Gulf heroes who I’ve learned to love and respect, I sense a change. It’s harder to keep going without the impetus of immediate disaster. But they’re shifting into low gear and continuing on. Just as they did after Katrina, just as they’ll always do.