June 23rd, 2010
07:05 PM ET

Gulf Dispatch: Witnessing beauty before oil hits

Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org).

After a very successful telethon for "Larry King Live" — we raised almost $2 million — I boarded a red-eye and headed down to Florida. Unfortunately, tar balls are starting to wash up on the shore, the same kind I saw on the beaches of Alabama that now, three weeks later, have weathered oil and sheen washing up on the beaches and into the marsh. If recent history is any indication (and I hope I am wrong), the Gulf coast of Florida is next.

As part of my work here in the Gulf, I wanted to get ahead of the catastrophe and witness the beauty of these fragile environments before the oil spoiled them. My destination was Apalachicola Bay, a delta system that is among the most pristine and productive in the Gulf.

I landed at the Panama City airport and stopped at a news shop in the terminal to scan the morning papers as I walked to rendezvous with the rest of the team who had flown in from D.C. For the first time in weeks, I noticed something different.

When I picked up the New York Times, there was no mention of the crisis in the Gulf on the front page for the first time in recent memory. Not good, I thought to myself. We cannot afford to allow this national crisis to succumb to our short attention spans. Unlike a hurricane or a tornado, this crisis is only going to get worse before it gets better, and as many have said, those responsible will only live up to their obligations as long as we the public hold them to task and demand it.

I met up with the rest of the team, and we headed out for the bay. The drive took us along two hours of winding roads bordered by alternating sections of strip malls and swamp land. We rendezvoused with the local Riverkeeper Alliance and headed to the bay.

I have visited people and communities all along the coast, from Louisiana to Alabama, but a whole new experience lay ahead of me here. Where fishermen often view conservation as an impediment to their industry, the oystermen who were about to take us out on the bay have been working with the local Riverkeeper. They understood the inherent alliance that can exist between conservation and fishing if the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem and thus the resource is maintained.

Toby and Leroy, two oystermen, greeted us with a broad smiles and warm welcomes. I could tell they were excited to take us out on the bay and share with us a place they were fiercely proud of and equally fierce about protecting. Unpainted and worn, their flat-bottom wooden boats looked crude and unstable.

Within moments of setting foot on board, however, we all quickly realized their simple elegance and perfect design.

“A good boat can last you 10 years,” Toby told me as he expertly guided his weathered craft through the shallows.

There is no dredging here; instead, these men catch or “tong” the oysters in a time-honored way that causes little damage to the environment, and they rotate the shoals they fish every six to eight months. I watched as Toby demonstrated the technique and then gave it a try, catching far fewer than Toby.

Even as we sorted through the oysters, we knew the oil was continuing its relentless onslaught unabated. I heard the same refrain from the oystermen as I have heard over and over again from men and women throughout the Gulf: “If the oil comes, it could take 10 to 15 years before we can fish again, our way of life will be over, and we don’t know what we will do.”

Heading back to shore, we spotted a pair of American Oystercatcher birds.

Like the oystermen, they and countless other creatures are threatened by this cancer spreading through the Gulf. Here in Apalachicola Bay, as in every part of the Gulf and indeed the world, the fate of the environment is entangled with the fate of humans, one inseparable from the other.

The sun was settling low into the sky as I watched the men tie up their boats and offload their catch. I was struck by the simple beauty of this place, the timeless dance of seasons and tides and the men and women whose lives depend upon them, and I was reminded, yet again, of the terrible price we pay to continue our addiction to oil. I can only hope that tomorrow morning, when I pick up the paper, they remember too.

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Switters01

    Me too, though I live in Miami – I go to the 'beach' most every days now and into the water while it's still clean.
    .
    And, Oh Yeah, Listen Haley Barbour and "Little Bobby Jindal – we don't want your stinkin' oil on our pristine beaches

    June 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JimmyLove

    What if that oil we’re sucking out of the earth is the life blood of the planet? It is widely known that the earth itself is a living organism and we came from the earth, having consciousness the same way that the earth has. Consider this: We have blood running in our vein without which we cannot stay alive; we already know that we can use crude oil to create energy; What if that same oil is needed for the long term health of our planet. I cannot help but to consider this possibility.

    June 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Spencer J. and Pamela T. Atkinson, PFTLD

    The oil spill in the Gulf brings to mind the following biblical scripture:
    And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. Revelation 8, vs. 10-11
    Wormwood, mentioned in the scripture is actually a plant absinthe.
    Wormwood oil is a dark green to brown oil, obtained from the leaves and tops of the wormwood. It was formerly used in tonics for medicine anthelmintic-of or pertaining to a substance capable of destroying or eliminating parasitic worms, (also called absinthe oil).
    The God of America is not pleased. More and more liberties and equalities are being established for the evil of this world in an effort to show mercy and sympathy for the evil's abominations against God's divine order of creation. Therefore, you can thank the evil of this world for the oil spill. For all the mercy and sympathy that has been given to the evil is in vain. It will not be satisfied until God is gone and it has the opportunity to take as many as it can to hell with it.
    Only the God of America, (the true God) can stop the oil spills. One day the oil will run out and go away and so will the evil of this world.

    June 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kathy L Carrillo

    Every time I look at a video clip on the oil spill I get knots in my stomach. The enormity of this catastrophe is still not completely understood by so many people. As I speak in classrooms and to the crews of my weekly beach cleanup it amazes me at how many people are under the impression that everything is going to be "okay"... "It's not people" wake up! We cannot leave this crisis in BP's hands. It's not their oceans, marine life or livelyhood that's being affected, they "Don't Care!" We need to take control of our own situation and then, and only then will we begin to see results...

    June 28, 2010 at 5:03 am | Report abuse |
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