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Gulf Oil Spill: A Family's Experience

Updated on April 3, 2011

Gulf Oil Spill Experience

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Tar ballsPoor crab.Oily clumps the color of dark chocolate littered the surf.Her egg pouch was as hard as a rock.Some crabs had oil stuck to their shells.
Tar balls
Tar balls
Poor crab.
Poor crab.
Oily clumps the color of dark chocolate littered the surf.
Oily clumps the color of dark chocolate littered the surf.
Her egg pouch was as hard as a rock.
Her egg pouch was as hard as a rock.
Some crabs had oil stuck to their shells.
Some crabs had oil stuck to their shells.

Gulf Oil Spill: A Family's Experience

 This year's vacation was definitely unforgettable.

           Every September, our family makes a pilgrimage to the emerald waters of the GulfCoast. Family members chip in and each year we rent the same house on the beach in FortMorgan. Here, memories are made, adventures are discovered, laughter is heard, and sleep is peaceful. Exposing the children to the vast beauty which is the ocean has been a favorite experience for them.


            This year the family worried about whether or not the trip would be possible as we watched the news concerning the BP oil spill. The days of waiting for a definitive answer to the oil spill problem were endless, and reports from the gulf area dampened our spirits. As beaches closed, businesses faltered, and tourism came to a grinding halt. The realty company we used offered a refund if we arrived to find our trip ruined by the oil. Despite the worst media, we decided to give it a try. We packed our swimsuits and our sunscreen and we hoped and prayed for the best.


            The coast was bustling, but not chaotic. This was nice in many ways, since we did not have to deal with traffic and long lines. Our favorite rental house was intact; so far so good. Heavy equipment lined the streets of several neighborhoods. Tractors with large sifting devices drove up and down the beach on a daily basis, sifting the sand to separate any clumps of oil. The tractors did not work below the tide line, which is why we found so many “tar balls”.


            To hear those around us speak, life was good and not much had changed since the spill. Yet our view of the horizon was littered with enormous tankers, trolling around the shallow gulf waters collecting oil. During prior vacations to the beach, we complained about the once gorgeous ocean view being continuously pockmarked by more oil rigs and drilling platforms. What started as four or five turned into twenty-three by this year’s count. Add the giant tankers looming on the horizon and the atmosphere suddenly felt ominous.


            We found the tar balls on the first day. My three children ran down to the water’s edge and stepped on dozens of them. The results were thick greasy brown smears on the bottoms of our feet.  The smell was obnoxious. Most of these clumps were the size of a quarter, but a few were the size of my son’s fist. They were the color of dark chocolate. As we looked up and down the beach, we saw that there were thousands of these dark blobs. These blobs were also in the water, gently rolling along the sea floor like marbles. Out past the sand bank, the tar balls were much larger, apparently unbroken by the waves.


            Day two yielded more discoveries. We were delighted to count over one hundred blue crabs laying their bright orange eggs in the shallow waters. This was a good sign. My daughter found one which was not so fortunate. This little crab was slow moving, and she tried desperately to scrape her eggs into a nesting zone. Her mandibles were blackened, encrusted in what appeared to be oil, and her egg pouch was much the same. While other crabs displayed pouches filled with healthy living eggs, her eggs were saturated in oil and had hardened into a rock. The eggs were glued to her body. My kids watched silently as she died while using her last bit of determination to unsuccessfully tend the next generation of her kind.


            More crabs in distress were found, and we even flagged down some of the workers, who were walking up the shoreline making notes on clipboards.  They seemed shocked when we described what we saw, and claimed they had seen no such tragedies. They asked what we had been doing with the crabs we found. We buried the dead ones, and left the others alone. They looked suspicious. Finally, they turned and walked away without a word. We also saw where a few fish washed ashore, some with oil lining their gills and in between their tiny silver scales. Some of the Terns pecked at an occasional tar ball, checking it for a morsel of food. The entire month we were there, we never saw any person or piece of machinery collect even one of these black balls either by the waters edge or in the clear coastal waters. We started picking them up and flinging them as far as we could – up onto the dry sandy banks. We knew the tractors would get them there, but in the scheme of things what good did we do?


            We experienced swimming at a very limited area of beach, and yet we had seen enough to break our hearts. I wondered how many crabs and fish and birds were affected along the entire gulf coast. We prayed that nature would find a way to heal itself – as it has so many times before. Watching four dolphins play at sunset one evening, my son asked me what would happen next year. The answer: we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I still have a rather large oil stain on my favorite swimsuit – a reminder of this year’s adventures and then some.  



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