Photos by Brian Merchant
I recently got back from a 10 day stint covering the Gulf oil spill for TreeHugger. The scenes I came across in impacted regions throughout Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi were tense, chaotic, devastating and often downright sad. A disaster of such a magnitude is capable of taking you by surprise on a daily basis -- from gruesome scenes of beaches packed with dead marine life to strange encounters with chemicals that transform oil into asphalt, here are the most shocking things I saw during my time in the Gulf.
1. Hundreds -- If Not Thousands -- of Dead Fish Washing Ashore
I had already seen oil washing ashore on the Louisiana mainland a few days before, but it was doing so in small globules and small amounts. While that certainly raised red flags, the first guttural response I registered was as a result of witnessing the grisly scene of hundreds and hundreds of dead fish washing ashore on an island off Alabama. More likely a result of BP's use of chemical dispersants than the oil itself, the cause of the fish's death ashore remains unconfirmed. The video above should give an idea of the gruesome scene -- there was a dead fish ashore for every step I took on the miles-long stretch of beach.
2. BP Failing to Provide Safety Gear to Fishermen Working With Oil
One of the first things I learned when I arrived in Venice, Louisiana, was that BP was failing to provide adequate safety gear to the fishermen it hired to clean up the toxic oil spill. The NRDC's Dr. Gina Solomon explained why this presents a severe health risk to these men, and why not being properly protected is dangerous. Have we learned nothing from other disasters -- this lack of concern with human safety was pretty shocking.
3. Dead Sea Turtle, Dead Dolphin on the Beach
On one of my last days on the ground, I got a tip that marine life had been discovered ashore on an island off Mississippi. I joined the nonprofit Below the Surface to investigate, and sure enough -- dead creatures littered the shores. A baby dolphin, a sea turtle, a few birds, and man-o-wars were washed up all across the small island.
4. Mystery Solution Turning Oil Into Asphalt
This was shocking for another reason -- the US army was deploying a response to the spill that seemed lifted from a sci fi film: they were planning on turning oil first into a gelatin, and then into asphalt. Yes, oil from the gulf spill could end up paving a road. Pretty strange stuff -- take a look at this video to see how the army plans to to enact its scheme.