The combination of massive dispersant use, fewer obviously dead birds and animals, the capping of the well, and the government's apparent eagerness to help BP tell the story in the past tense, dovetailed nicely with our own short attention spans and eagerness for novelty. When anyone dared bring up the fact that there were still troubles in the Gulf you could almost see the country cringe. Please, we said, Haven't we covered that already?
Despite this, in late October of 2010 I returned to the Gulf to see things for myself. During the summer I had gotten to know Ryan Lambert, a Cajun fishing and hunting guide in the town of Buras, about an hour and a half south of New Orleans. In July Ryan took me out in his boat to show me the necrotic fringe of oil along the wetlands, and that fall I wanted to visit him, and his landscape, again.
After we shook hands in his lodge, Ryan told me he wanted to show me something. We walked out behind his house to massive fish scaling tables where two hundred pounds of shrimp was piled. The shrimping season had finally opened, despite the objections of many shrimpers themselves and the reports of tarballs coming up in the nets. A cry of "Ollie, Ollie, in-come-free" had gone up. Everyone back in the water. Now, while I watched, Ryan started flicking through them until he got to one that he held under my eyes. He pointed to the black gills.
"Something is wrong down here," he said. "Very wrong. Look at this shrimp...I don't know what that black is but it's not right. Yesterday we had 500 pounds of shrimp and I looked at the gills and I could see black inside every one of them. I called the authorities and they said, 'Well, yeah, that's black gill disease. It's a bacteria.' So okay, I'll buy that, a bacteria. So then I got a question for you. Why haven't I ever seen it before in thirty years of hunting and fishing here? I try to be open-minded about all this to make sure that I don't overstep. But things are not right. I know when things are right because I been here so long and I live outside. In all my time here I've seen only one fish kill. But since the spill I've seen nine with my own eyes. Nine massive fish kills. Fish suddenly thrown up dead on shore or floating on the water. Why? For thirty years it didn't happen, so why'd it happen this year? And the fish too. Usually in October, when the trout come in, you have ten to twelve boats out fishing which means you're catching a thousand fish a day. But that's not what we're seeing. I've seen only seven boats limit-out since July. Seven boats! Unheard of. Ought to be seven a day. I can understand why we don't have business because of the perception of the oil. But not to have fish."
When the media did occasionally check in with the Gulf story, they liked to ask the question "Where has all the oil gone?" It turned out that Ryan Lambert had an answer to that question too. In the two weeks before my visit they had picked up 36,000 gallons of oil just in Bay Jimmy, Ryan's prime fishing grounds, and 10,000 bags of tar balls. Ryan's was a different sort of news than that I had been hearing on the national broadcasts. As the year stretched on, and the spill receded into the past, it became not just a minority voice but a practically unheard one. You had the sense that people in the media, as the foreman in the bar in Mobile suggested, were a little embarrassed by how they had overreacted at first and so now compensated by swinging the other way.Read more here.
Further info on David Gessner's The Tarball Chronicles can be found here. It's a helluva read.