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. johnnyhouse

    Wonder what it cost the taxpayers for that copter flight which told us exactly what we already knew?

    June 27, 2010 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. johnnyhouse

    If anyone could imagine this world without the present oil supply you can understand why drilling can not stop especially since our main man is incognito now.

    June 27, 2010 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  3. sdinfoserv

    This is our fault... Each and every American is 100% responsible for this travisty.
    We knew the problem, we know the solution. We choose daily to drive huge SUV's burning cheap gas as transportation. We say "not in our back yard" to nuclear energy, we would rather have views of hills then wind turbines, we refuse to invest in an aging electrical infrastructure...
    What does it take to motivate action when we already tollerate sending billions to those who kill our sons?
    SHame on us, we deserve this, and more.

    June 27, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. bucaman

    Another case of political grandstanding. I am also against drilling off Florida and will support any ammendment put on the ballot, but that is not our immediate concern. Just like Obama, Crist is using us for selfish photo op and agenda pushing. Obama has exploited us for his Cap & Tax agenda and now Crist is doing the same thing, flip-flopping on his support for offshore Florida drilling just in time for his election for Senate.
    I would dearly love for either of these guys to come in here on white horses and save our beaches then become heroes, but they are both using our misery to further their own agenda. I guarantee you, when Obama was here, Crist never said to his face, "we need to waive the Jones Act and set up a real military unity of command", just another hugging affair. Not that this is news, but politics is not about leadership anymore. It's all about agenda and getting re-elected at any cost. Throw both of these bums overboard into our oil coated waters.

    June 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. PDXtoNOLA

    How fascinating, Phillippe! Oh, did it give you great heartache to see, Phillippe? Yet, in the end, Phillippe, did it remind you of the resilience of the human spirit and natural world? What a joke. Grandpa is rolling in his grave...

    June 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |

    The BP 'event' cld be the opportunity for pushing a new sustainable GREEN BUBBLE! Accruing the full,fair all inclusive costs of oil, it seems a timely opportunity to split concentrated dependence on oil by more tax, and promote rebate incentives for green energies. Either way, the oil business is unlikely to remain unscathed after this cleanup. This momentum doesn't seem to help old oil and the same old samo continuing as usual. November or not.

    June 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. eye95

    BP's actions pre-dating the disaster were criminal. Their actions subsequently have demonstrated true moral bankruptcy among their leadership. Someone posted this earlier. I read it and think that it is great satire.


    June 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lisa

    Why was not this much interest paid attention by MSM regarding the the Exxon Valdez(sp?) spill? Why was not Pres. Bush Sr. held to such high standards for clean up? Why did the media and the rest of America give this guy a pass on HIS responsibilities and didn't make it part of his demise as president? Why has not these questions been asked? Now that Pres Obama is President the media and America is making this oil spill HIS problem, yet it was never Pres Bush Sr's problem. Why do you think that is? I could tell you, but I'm sure the educated has figured it out.

    June 27, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lisa

    My understanding is that there is 575 miles (approx) in the Gulf affected by the oil spill out of 7500 square miles of Gulf. Now 575 miles is a significant amount, but wouldn't it be prudent if CNN and other news media put this oil spill in proper perspective? Another thing, why can't the media answer the question about why the skimmers can pick up the oil in the Gulf like they did in previous oil spills. The reason why skimmers won't work is because unlike previous spills, the oil is coming from a deep, dark and very cold place. By the time it hits the surface, it's not in the form of a spill, so to speak. It's in a form of a glob or hard ball. Thus, not your typical "oil spill." However, the media should know this. I know President Bush Sr knows this as they did NOTHING in Alaska to help with that spill. This is not like the Exxon Valdez where the oil came from a tanker and spilled; not the same thing.

    June 27, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. TyHouston

    What a bunch of granola eatting hippie dribble...Ruthless oil? Oil isn't ruthless it has no mind to be "ruthless" or emotional...

    In a weapon made for war...hunting..

    Grow up frenchie. It's a oil spill, not the supervillians experiement on the earth....ruthless oil...yeah the non-sentient sludge is being...ruthless. This is so pathetic i'm not even spell checking this...later... and grow up Frenchie.

    June 27, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. concerned

    Where is the video of this helicoptor tour? Phillipe Cousteau had to describe a aerial helicoptor tour? I am confused. We need real footage – Americans deserve to know what is going on.

    June 27, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jesus

    Actual BP Oil footage!!


    June 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jesus


    June 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jesus

    One more BP Oil Kill!!


    June 27, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. R stands for Ridiculous

    There is only one thing that any of the gulf states could have done to stop this mess. They should have all voted for Al Gore instead.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
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