Photos via Brian Merchant
Yet another shore appears to have been hit with oil from the Gulf spill: Ship Island, Mississippi. I'd barely gotten back to Louisiana from Dauphin Island, AL, where hundreds of dead catfish were washing up, when I got word that oil was spotted on the Mississippi island. The nonprofit Below the Surface was on the scene, and they suggested I come down and check it out with them. Once there, we did indeed find oil had washed ashore -- as well as a dead baby dolphin and a sea turtle. I took the ferry from Gulf Port, Mississippi and met up with Jared Criscuolo and Kristian Gustavson, the founders of Beyond the Surface. Both are surfers who've turned their attention to water conservation and preserving coastline, and they're in the Gulf to help document and protect its shores. We walked the coastline of Ship Island, and came across a number of discouraging sights: dead birds, dead man-o-wars, a dead dolphin, a massive dead sea turtle, and small amounts of fresh oil on the coastline.
We found the baby dolphin and sea turtle on the northwest shore of Ship Island.
Dead dolphins and sea turtles have been washing ashore presumably as a result of the spill since at least May 1st.
Since Ship Island is one of the only barrier islands that's a national park, and entirely undeveloped as a result, the animals may have been laying on the shore undiscovered for many days. This could be the reason for their apparently advanced state of decompose. A reporter from the Bellona Foundation said that he'd walked the same beach one week ago, and there had been no trace of a dolphin or turtle.
Here's Criscuolo explaining the implications of the find:
Pat Heidingsfelder, a native to the area for 20 years, said he's never seen a dolphin or a turtle wash up on the beach before.
We also found man-o-wars washed up -- a common sight on oil-impacted beaches -- as well as dead birds:
Adding to the already depressing impact of the scene, we spotted a pod of dolphins swimming just beyond the boom that's been wrapped around the island to protect it from oil. You can (almost) see a few of them here:
Note that the role that the oil or the chemical dispersants played in the death of these creatures is as of now unconfirmed. And again, though many look to have been decomposing for some time, this could be due to the fact that this island is far more secluded than others around the Gulf where dead marine life has been found, and have simply remained undiscovered longer -- remember, oil has been spewing from the Deepwater Horizon site for nearly an entire month now. The sheer amount of dead marine life we found on the island also makes it seem unlikely that the recent event played no role.
On the way back to the mainland, we spoke to the ferry's captain, Louis Skrmetta. Long a steward of the barrier island National Park and a staunch offshore drilling opponent, he told us he was "disgusted" by the spill that threatened the island so vital to his livelihood. He explained that he might have to sell one -- or all -- of his ships because of it. Skermetta told us emphatically and eloquently that it's a clear example of why we need "to start rethinking our energy future," and that the "only good thing that could come out of this is change."
More Reportage on the Gulf Oil Spill
How to Clean an Oil-Covered Bird (Video)
Already-Vanishing Oyster Reefs Under Threat from Oil Spill (Video)
Up Close and Personal With the Birds Threatened by the Gulf Oil Spill (Photos + Video)