June 25th, 2010
02:38 PM ET

Gulf Dispatch: An aerial view of ruthless oil's impact

Philippe Cousteau, Gov. Charlie Crist and others fly over the oil disaster.

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).

Thump-thump-thump went the heavy blades as I felt the Black Hawk slowly start to whir to life and heave its hulking weight forward.

As a part of my mission to tell the stories of what is going on in the Gulf states affected by the oil crisis, I had been told we would take a helicopter trip out to survey the Florida and Alabama coasts, but I had not expected to travel in one of these huge military machines so familiar to anyone who watches modern Hollywood war movies.

Across from me was Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, and next to him sat Gen. Douglas Burnett, the director of the Florida National Guard.

As the ground slowly fell away from us, I peered out into the glaring midday sun and braced myself for the worst.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that waking up early is not my favorite thing to do, especially when four or five hours of sleep has been the norm over the past several weeks.

However, a 5:45 a.m. wakeup call is made all the worse when instead of birds singing, the only morning greeting is the slight smell of noxious oil hanging in the air and the sight of thick black muck slowly seeping into what would otherwise be beautiful fine white sand.

Unfortunately, that has become the usual for many of the people who live along the Gulf these days, and so it was for me.

Now I was flying in a machine designed for war, only this time it was not hunting any human adversary. Instead, our mission was to fly reconnaissance over a different type of enemy, one that has no rifles, no rockets, no tanks, but that has nonetheless infiltrated our country as effectively as any spy and as ruthlessly as any guerrilla warrior.

The oil that we have grown addicted to has now reared its ugly head and is slowly laying waste to a huge swath of our country.

As we flew over the Florida coast and made our way toward Alabama, we could see patches of thick orange oil interspersed with sheen dotted throughout the water beneath us.

On the beach, a solid black line of oil lay along the white sand like a long black snake sunning itself. Just offshore, pods of dolphin could be seen swimming through the oil. After over an hour, we landed on a dry patch of land near the beach and held an impromptu press conference with the governor and various VIPs.

We visited the crews along the beach as they worked to pick up the oil, wearing hazmat clothing in the 90-plus-degree heat. Oil was everywhere, and it seemed overwhelming. The men and women would work for hours, shoveling and raking up the oil, but despite their efforts, large black stains still dotted the shoreline as the sticky mass sank into the sand.

My colleague Denny Kelso, executive vice president of Ocean Conservancy, one of the leading ocean conservation organizations in the country, looked at me, and I could see the grim look of horror in his eyes. Denny had been the commissioner of the environment for the state of Alaska during the Exxon Valdez oil spill 21 years ago, and this scene was all too familiar.

As we headed back into the hulking Black Hawks, I felt the magnitude of what lay before us: This enemy was not going away without a formidable fight, one that will last for years and even decades.

But as we lifted off and flew over the beaches, the workers toiling away in the sun, I also felt a renewed sense of determination. The men and women on that beach, fighting the relentless heat and the even more relentless oil, were not giving up. Many of them were from Pensacola, and to me, they represent the best of us, people determined to fight for what they love in the face of overwhelming odds.

We landed at the Pensacola airport and headed toward Mobile, where I was due to co-host a fundraiser for the Mobile Baykeeper alongside Bobby Kennedy Jr., one of the greatest environmental heroes in our country today. The Mobile Baykeeper is another group of individuals determined to do whatever it takes to defeat this new foe.

Just like the workers on the beach, I knew that groups like the Mobile Baykeeper could be found across the Gulf and across the country, people who would never give up. I knew that as long as they continued to fight, there would always be hope.

soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. BreakingNewsBlog.us

    hurricanes coming soon in the Gulf... WHAT are they waiting to listen those who have the RIGHT IDEAS AND SOLUTION to STOP the oil spill QUICKLY to SAVE the sea and shores nature and wildlife BEFORE they'll be submerged by over 250,000,000 more gallons of oil, in the next TWO months (if lucky) ???????????

    June 25, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • LOXOMO

      Clearly, after seeing Troy Aikman-Drew Bledsoe + Jean-Michel Cousteau on TV everywhere the past two weeks ECOSPHERE TECHNOLOGIES (ESPH) OZONIX technology IS the best way to clean up the gulf. Why in the world hasn't BP or the Bov. signed a deal with them yet? What in the world are they waiting for? The ECO equipment is 150% times faster (200 gals/min to 500 gals/min. respectively) in cleaning up and separating oil from water than Kevin Costner's brother's technology and proven to work over 2 yrs of testing in the Oil/Gas industry. Millions of people are now backing Ecosphere Technologies-it's time everyone reading this started to presseure BP and the Gov to get their technology in place and operating ASAP! LOXOMO

      June 26, 2010 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron Gos

      I don't understand why they can't use a powerful suction to suck up the oil escaping from the well head. They have a pipe already in place above the well head, why can't they attach a pump to the surface ship and vacuum all the escaping oil? Yes, it will suck in seawater as well, but that can be separated at the surface. Why is this not being done to prevent this tragic catastrophe from getting worse?

      June 26, 2010 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • useifnot


      June 26, 2010 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doreen

      Philippe.... Tell us something we don't already know. You'd make a excellent politician. WHERE IS YOUR OUTRAGE???? Your not an environmentalist, your a writer. Dolphins swimming through the oil. Ya, want to stick around and pick up their dead bodies off the shore. If your grandfather wasn't already dead, this would kill him .....

      June 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • qwerasdf


      Zero science (CHECK)
      Zero math (CHECK)
      Zero calculations (CHECK)
      Zero facts (CHECK)
      Zero research (CHECK)
      5 year old imagination with a crayon (CHECK)
      No education (CHECK)
      Poor English (CHECK)
      Can't spell Oxygen (CHECK)
      Crappy idea that BP, US Gov, any government, any company won't take (CHECK)
      Ugly website (CHECK)
      Spam (CHECK)
      Someone who doesn't know how to skip lines and puts idiotic periods (CHECK)

      June 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. joseph cecil smith

    TRULY THERE ARE FAST WORKING SOLUTIONS TO GET OIL OUT OF BEACH SAND: 2 fast ones: A biz in gulf region MAKES DRY ICE PRODUCT THAT INSTANTLY PULLS OIL OUT OF SAND: this is true, takes seconds, leaves sand WHITE. workers are over 100 times more productive using this. 2nd: a company in gulf now has machines which clean the sand and can clean OVER 10 MILES OF BEACH PER DAY – at a cost of $25,000 per day. that is much more productive than low-tech old world solutions. Also, Costner has the separator that pull oil out of water very high rate..
    please use these fast, the oil will be coming ashore soon... This is truly a modern war, as bad as if against robot-droid-battle soldiers.. they are taking out our gulf coast, our southern economy. Obama has the power to order these machines, but they wait and wait and the enemy oil wins battle after battle, taking beaches, killing dreams, breaking america's FOOD CHAIN! and MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE: GET BP TO STOP PUTTING THE "DISPERSANTS" IN THE WATER! that is more than 400% more toxic than oil alone, and with dispersant and oil, it's more than deadly, and will ripple up the food chain for years causing birth defects and etc.

    June 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jose Calderon

      You need to send this to President Obama's email. I think that usagov. com?

      June 26, 2010 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • useifnot


      June 26, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • okpfloyd

      You are exactly right yet this news is being ignored or ordered not to be spoken about. Early on the EPA told BP to use a less toxic dispersant but BP and ther friends at NALCO had a lot of it in reserves around the world so they insisted on using it up. The Corexit is at this moment evaporating and wiill eventually rain down and poison our air and land. It's a clusterphuck of grave proportions.


      June 27, 2010 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. Greenisimo Nature Blog @Greenisimo

    It's amazing to me that nobody is telling everyone that the components of oil including kerosine, gasoline, and others evaporate leaving the thick brown oil behind. This sounds like a good thing until your kids drink gasoline laced rain water. – SEE http://greenisimo.com

    June 25, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. phillip Marlowe

    more grandstanding by people in it for their own gain, politicans, etc.

    June 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charles Barton

      It's disgusting to see comments here that disparage someone who spends their life protecting the planet. Perhaps you are the problem with the human race. Not greed, rather it's your apathy.

      June 26, 2010 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Neptune

    Congressman Joe“The Oil Man” Barton, BP Corporate Cheer Leader Michelle Bachmann and BP Water Boy and Circus Clown Rand Paul should suit up and help clean up this sludge instead of apologizing to British Petroleum while wrapping themselves up in the Flag and the Bible. All three of these modern day Carpet Baggers will proclaim that the cause of the oil spill is God’s wrath because women in Bikini’s are walking on Florida beaches!

    June 25, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jr

    So he flew in a giant, wasteful, oil-consuming machine to see an oil spill that we already know is bad and tell us that we're addicted to oil. Welcome to modern "conservation."

    June 26, 2010 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Sr

      Ladies and Gentleman we have another Limbaugh Lemming: “Jr”

      June 26, 2010 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Arthur

      Jr– hopefully you'll never need one of those "giant, wasteful, oil-consuming machines" to medevac you to a hospital after you flipped your car in a remote location.

      June 26, 2010 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • ecibu33

      Exactly the problem! These "leaders" and "environmentalists" should actually lead by example. When Gandhi expounded non-violence, he himself led the way. The problem with modern liberals is that they talk about addiction to oil while jet-setting to the oil spill location (just like Cousteau took a "red-eye" flight so that he can be at the scene of action). Hypocrisy is quite cheap after all.

      June 26, 2010 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • robert

      Hey, anyone have a long string and handle? We'll find a kite that's big enough to survey the damage!! Right, Jr?

      June 26, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • artist

      I agree with you. I have a solution too. We should study how to genetically alter flesh eating bacteria into oil eating bacteria. We are close to being able to do that, aren't we? We need to put in some sort of timer. After all, we don't want them to eat all the oil. At the press of a button, they'll all revert back to flesh eating bacteria. I think that's a very "green" solution.

      June 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Ecibu33 what was Cousteau supposed to do Fly with his own wings to view the spill. You Glen Beck Robots just repeat what your masters on right wing talk radio tell you to say, at least have an original opinion and not some smarty pants pre-planned answer.

      June 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • useifnot


      June 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle

      Rush Limbaugh = A Boil on the Butt of America.

      June 27, 2010 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. truth is a weapon

    google Kindra Arnesen a video of a woman who is on the scene, bad air days and sick children..... unreal that this goes unreported by our mainstream media... cause i really care so much about MJ and the other bs headlines. shame on u cnn.

    June 26, 2010 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle

      Oh, but didn't you know MJ is a god?! He will swish down from his heavenly Neverland in the Sky and Moonwalk across the Gulf, leaving it clean and pristine! Then he will share Jesus Juice will all the little boys in the Gulf area! Amen. 😉

      June 27, 2010 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  8. Cliff

    I was on that beach (at Navarre and other parts of Santa Rosa Island just a week before the oil "hit" that area. I sat there taking photos of dolphin pods, pelicans, gulls and other shore birds, and people enjoying the beach and water. I swam with manta rays going by and with the other fish and mollusks, and again, the people, all the while wondering what the next week would bring. We found out only too soon. The report of a 9 mile swath of "stuff" caused tears to run. Hearing the bureaucrats argue brings not tears, but anger. And now the air in New Orleans, depending on which way the wind is blowing, smells like turpentine. Thanks for the post! Lets hope we can all do some good in whatever way we are able.

    June 26, 2010 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  9. Terry W. Brookman

    Crude oil also contains benzine witch was banned for sale because it is a carcinogen and causes birth abnormality's. Thats not Penzoil floating arround out there and we have not seen the worst of it yet. What a screw up!

    June 26, 2010 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Now you know why the initial cleaning up wasn't as energetic as one would hope. Tme marhes were just too toxic to go to!

      June 27, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Terry W. Brookman

    So long as there is so much good news I would change the subject to the Middle East. As of today there are I believe two battle groups off the coast of Iran which have been joined by a Israeli group and many German surface ships along with subs. Many troops are moving north from Baghdad to join the base that has a lot of planes there, the odd part is a lot of the planes are Israeli. Iran military is on full alert and have been mobilized and are heading North toward the base, long columns of tanks and other assets are getting ready to fight. Several Iranian guard have taken control of the nuke facility's out of central government control and are racing to get nukes ready within thirty days.. North Korean missile techs have been helping Iran o turn out hundreds of missile's with a range that could hit Europe. This world is FUBAR!

    June 26, 2010 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  11. Terry W. Brookman

    Take a look!

    June 26, 2010 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  12. Patriot1028

    One of the largest oil skimmers in the world from Taiwan the "A Whale" just left Norfolk, VA headed to the Gulf. However, in an interview given yesterday the skipper has NOT received the approval from the US Coast Guard to conduct operations in the gulf. It is only one of many skimmers available. This ship alone is capable of collecting half a million gallons of oil a day.

    Perhaps the president who has for days known of this ships voyage could stop long enough to approve its use in the gulf crisis. less

    June 26, 2010 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
    • KevinD

      he has to be asked by the coast guard and he hasn't stop. stop blaming things on the President if you dont know all the facts

      June 26, 2010 at 7:37 am | Report abuse |
    • useifnot


      June 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle


      That's right. Lock those hands together tightly and keep them from doing anything constructive...like writing Congress and BP, and doing other preparatory work needed for when the big spill hits land.

      June 27, 2010 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  13. marty

    Terrible reporting. Cliched buffoonery.

    Check this 'locall' out. She lives inside the zone and speaks the truth. This is news:

    June 26, 2010 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
  14. Scott Shaubel

    Thar she blows, Jaques Cousteau
    Hear here sing so sweet and low
    Lull me overboard, out-cold
    Gathered in and swallowed whole

    June 26, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Arglebargle

      What? Is that psycho poetry? Are you using the right words?
      Are you sure you spelled your name right, too?

      June 27, 2010 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Captain D

    Why are we to believe this woman? Who is she and what authority and access does she have that is verifiable? I am not buying it. She's lying. This is a propaganda video designed to make BP and the Federal gov't appear as if they are not doing anything to combat this problem. Why would anyone give her unfettered access? She's a liar pure and simple

    June 26, 2010 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • me

      I listened to her speak and she talks about how she has been here, there and everywhere. If her kids are sick why doesn't she just stay where she has gone to. Why does she keep bringing them back in harm's way. I have a hard time believing that she would be allowed to sit in on very important meetings or that anyone would say we are all in this together covering everything up. However, the horse and pony show (which is what a lot of other people are refering to it as I do believe.

      June 26, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
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