This issue of The Drake went to press on May 20, exactly one month after the disastrous oil rig explosion off the Louisiana coast. With 24-hour news coverage providing in-depth, up-to-the-minute details on containment efforts, and with many “experts” sharing their thoughts on television and message boards, we went to the source, and asked for thoughts from some of the guides who know the marsh best. —The Editors.
With apologies to Texas, there’s a saying down on the bayou: “Everything’s bigger in Loueeziana.” And it’s true—the parties, the people, the personalities, the music, the fish, the flavors, and, unfortunately, the fuckups. Just as New Orleans and the coastal communities to the south seemed to be turning the tide after Katrina, that tide now runs black. The natural disaster of Katrina, which was prophesied years earlier and brought home to all of us in images of a flooded city, proved that things really are bigger in the Bayou State. It was a worst-case scenario that shocked even those who had forecast the event. But now it looks possible that the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the failure of the “failsafe” valve to shut off the flow of oil, could become the largest environmental disaster ever. If continued attempts to shut off the well remain unsuccessful, and clean-up efforts fail, the destruction of coastal wetlands will make the Katrina crisis seem insignificant.
For fisherman, this could not have come at a worse time. Spawning redfish are off the Chandelieur Islands. The tarpon spawning cycle and migration is just getting underway. Really, everything that swims in the Gulf is in the path of the oil. Environmentally, there couldn’t be more at stake, and yet that’s just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. Considering the impact to business and livelihoods, the outlook is unthinkable. The first thing to go is the algae, then the shrimp and oysters, then the fish, birds, and turtles. As the oily mess finds its way into the back corners and nurseries of the marsh, it will kill off future generations. All the while the commercial fishermen, the sportfishing industry, guides, hotels, restaurants, they all suffer—we all suffer. As I made a long run today from the west side of the Marquesas east into the backcountry behind my house on Sugarloaf Key, I thought about the many days I’ve spent on the marsh and what a shame it is to see yet another disaster hit southeast Louisiana. I pushed down the throttle as my tension mounted, becoming even more pissed at the bastards that caused this. I wanted to lash out against the Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh crowd that said the oil would dissolve like chocolate milk, and how it’s all a conspiracy against the oil companies. Such bullshit! Ignorant political bullshit!
Think about the poor oysterman who just lost his career; the marine birds covered in oil; the dead fish starved to death. Yes, I wanted to be really pissed, but I couldn’t be. Because there I was, throttling after tarpon, pumping gas into my 150-horse Evinrude. It’s not really Rush’s fault, it’s mine… ours… the world’s. It’s fair to say I leave a larger carbon footprint than most, but my job cannot be done without gasoline.
On February 7, the Saints won their first Super Bowl (see page 107). In many ways the victory symbolized the recovery of New Orleans after Katrina. Perhaps, in some weird way, Katrina was a good thing for the City. The disaster put the Big Easy in the spotlight. And as another Louisiana saying goes, “The world is a stage so you gotta put on a show.” New Orleans did just that. They’ve rebounded stronger and with more spirit than ever. So there’s reason for hope. If “everthing’s bigger in Louisiana,” there’s no reason why this disaster couldn’t become the most successful environmental relief story of all time. And, if “the world is a stage,” why can’t we use this event to show the world that it’s time for a new energy strategy?
Will Benson went to college in New Orleans. He guides in Florida and the Louisiana marsh.