Photos by Brian Merchant
The debate over whether or not oil from the massive slick in the Gulf of Mexico would wash ashore on the mainland is over: It already has, and I've got the pictures to prove it. The hundreds-of-miles-wide spill has been well documented, but so far no photos of any oil making landfall have been made public. Here are quite possibly the first.Earlier today, I boarded a chartered boat with Greenpeace, conservation scientist Rick Steiner, and a German television crew. We set off in pursuit of a tip that the currents may push some of the oil ashore in the southernmost parts of Louisiana, at the southernmost point of the Mississippi River.
After a two hour boat ride, we saw the the booms deployed around the marshland were indeed already collecting oil. After confirming it was fresh, and noting a BP sanctioned crew on a nearby beach, we headed onshore to investigate.
Sure enough, crude oil could be found littering the beach. Though it was a relatively small amount -- no blackened shorelines dripping with crude a la the Exxon Valdez spill -- it was undeniable proof that the oil was making landfall. We found the oil both seeping into the marshland (which is a vibrant habitat and feeding ground to birds) and caking the sand in a form closer to "tar balls."
The oil can be seen here coating the reeds. If left uncleaned, this is fatal to the plants -- you can see here some of the stalks have already died off, presumably from contact with the oil. Here's Rick Steiner on the implications of the finding:
And here are some more pictures from the scene.
Driftwood coated in oil.
An oiled oyster shell.
Oil can be seen (the lighter-colored stuff) seeping into the marshland.
By the end of the day, two of these jars were filled, as well as much of a bigger tin bucket, with more oil popping up as we looked. Plenty was left onshore when we headed back.
The site where we discovered the oil was in an area called South Pass, near Port Eads, the very southernmost point of Louisiana, and some 30 miles north from the underwater oil geyser caused by the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig.
As our boat pulled into harbor, Daniel Howells, the Deputy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, said, "What we found today was a sad thing." He noted that though the massive slick floating in the sea is already known to pose countless dangers, seeing "the oil starting to come ashore makes it more real for most people." I think he's right -- and it's only going to get more real, as more of this oil continues to wash ashore around the Gulf. This is just the beginning.
I'll be adding more pics, info, video from the trip, so watch this space for updates.
I'm traveling around the Gulf of Mexico reporting on the continuing oil crisis. Stay tuned for the latest developments and breaking reports from the scene.