Afternoon in Grand Isle, Louisiana (PHOTOS)

grand-isle-060210-348Yesterday, I took a drive from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico to see for myself what's happening along the coast in the 6th week of the oil spill disaster. Global Green, since its involvement in New Orleans in 2005, has been committed to helping the people of the Gulf Coast recover, and this latest environmental tragedy has launched a renewed effort to respond to the needs of the local community.

Although the city of New Orleans is more than two hours away from the areas impacted by the oil as of yet, we know that the richochet effects on the local economy and culture will come to bear in the weeks and months (and most likely, years) to come.

To give outsiders a perspective of the landscape and region under attack by this ecological nightmare,  I've documented here the images and impressions of the unique Louisiana lifestyle.  It's a part of the country known for its Cajun food, music and heritage, for its rich history and diverse peoples, as well as its lazy roads with lush vistas and abundant wildlife.

fresh fruits and vegetables from the countryside

local Catholic cemetery

modest Louisiana country home

larger country estate

driving past pristine swamps, and marshlands and wetlands to reach the Gulf of Mexico
The most salient facts to remember when formulating a measured long-term response to the BP oil spill are the following:
  1. The local economy depends upon fishing.
  2. The local economy depends upon oil.

Once the rest of the country reconciles its love of the first and its dependence upon the second, with the ease and low cost with which these products are acquired, it's important to recognize the debt owed to South East Louisiana for the American lifestyle we so happily enjoy.  There are no short-term solutions, unfortunately, to the near-term shortage and high prices we will face of both seafood and oil.  In the long-term, however, it's vital that we seize this opportunity to demand the alternative energy solutions our country requires and the clean environment our food supplies and natural habitat require.

waterborne industries are king

local retailers out of business

living and relying on the water

more shuttered businesses

waterways everywhere on either side of every road

many related industries depend upon clean waters and abundant fisheries

signs of the other main industry of the area - oil company helicopters

many local workers are employed by the oil industries

where much of America's oil and gas comes from

this is the sportsman's paradise that Louisiana reaps so much revenue from

supplies dwindling

Tug boats, ship building factories, bait and tackle shops, ship repair firms, dry docks, seafood restaurants, sport fishing charters, oil equipment supply companies, diving equipment shops, motels, trucking companies, chemical engineering firms - the fabric of these industries are inextricably linked, all endangered by the growing black cloud in the Gulf of Mexico, killing ecosystems, wildlife, livelihoods, and potentially a region that's only recently recovering from some of the worst hurricane blows in recorded history.
The oil company responsible for the spill, the government responding to the spill, the industry that spawned the technology, the agency failed to adequately protect against the danger - all of these must be held accountable, but the question for the moment is: What will you do?  Will you stay vigilant until the last drop of oil is cleaned?  Will you push for legislative action to break America's addiction to fossil fuels and support innovative research and development in new energy sources?  Will you work with environmental nonprofits and local groups that are providing assistance to the people whose jobs and survival are at stake?

Grand Isle restaurant, host to media, contractors and military alike

island economy dependent upon fishermen, beachgoers, oilworkers, and diners

hotels and motels at capacity because of journalists and contract workers

the prayers of a community

Upon arriving at Grand Isle, I found members of the media interviewing locals, National Guardsmen patrolling the shores and roving the roads, contractors working on the relief efforts, nervous locals waiting for the deadly tide to roll in, aid workers combing the community to respond to short term and long term needs, and others on reconnaisance missions like myself.

At the shop where I stopped to buy a soda, the shopkeeper said his business had not slowed down yet because of the new traffic from the groups above had temporarily replaced the usual seasonal fishermen and vacationing families.  The woman who made my delicious shrimp po' boy said this supply of seafood was the last that would be available for awhile, as their supplier was running low, and they refused to purchase anything other than local products.  A local contractor who was supervising dozens of workers laying booms out in the Gulf in 12, 14 and 16 hour shifts said that one end of the island had been turned into a contractor camp, complete with sleeping quarters, cafeterias, mobile office operations, and paid security - his company had been subcontracted out by so many contractors above them that he wasn't sure whether they were hired by the US government or BP.

beach homes facing the Gulf of Mexico

a dream vacation home whose owners won't be able to enjoy the beach for a while...

residents waiting with baited breath

the history of the island goes back to the 19th century

finally reached the beach - inaccessible

military personnel positioned at the beach

Yes, there is oil on the beach at Grand Isle.  No, I was not able to go to see it on the beach.  The sections that have showed evidence of tarballs and oil slicks have been closed to the public, but the situation is far from normal.  This would normally be the busy season of beachgoing and barbeques, of fishing and firepits, of sandcastles and sunbathing.  But not one person is on the beach, and the closest I could get was the pier over part of the beach, where the oil booms are laid in anticipation or for show, it's unclear which.
A feeling of helplessness reigns.  Although the vast majority of the oil is still offshore, desperation, anger and cynicism reign onshore.  Locals and visitors alike feel that time is suspended while everyone waits to see how bad it will get and when the next shoe will drop.

view of the beach and the booms from the pier at Grand Isle, with the Coast Guard in the distance

empty beaches as the meager defenses await the onslaught of oil

military patrols on the sand

oil platforms in the distance, as the booms lay on the beach

schools of porpoises off the edge of the pier

our last great defense?

Stay tuned to hear how Global Green will be partnering with local nonprofits to help communities impacted by the oil spill.  Find out how you can help here: