Oil Coating Seafloor and Killing Fish, Crabs ... and the American Dream

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Irish-Canadian journalist Alex Kearns, who now lives in St. Mary's Georgia posted this image on her website today, along with the following description:

A
researcher captured this image. A discarded flag (or one that has
fallen from one of the many vessels in the area) rests on the ocean
floor amid the oil and the bodies of dead crabs.

A two-inch
layer of submerged oil is coating portions of the Gulf seafloor off the
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge: a week after a smothering layer of
floating crude washed ashore there. This scenario is being played out
all along the Gulf shoreline.

Collecting in pockets and troughs
in waist-deep water, the underwater oil is looser and stickier than the
tarballs that cover the beach. The consistency is more like a thick
liquid, albeit one made up of thousands of small globs. Unlike
tarballs, which can often be picked up out of the water without
staining the fingers, the submerged oil stains everything that it
touches. If you passed your hand through the material it would emerge
covered in oily smears.

There are a number of patches of
submerged oil 40 to 100 feet off the beach, apparently collecting along
rip currents and sandbars. The carcasses of sand fleas, speckled crabs,
ghost crabs, and leopard crabs are spread throughout the oil, a thick
layer of the material caking the bodies of the larger crabs - their
claws looking as if they been turned into clubs made of oil.

***

Huge
schools of bait fish are hugging the shore, attracting large numbers of
birds. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, mullet, ladyfish, speckled
trout, and other fish are congregating in massive numbers amid the
sharks.

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab measured large areas of low
oxygen water just off the beach at Fort Morgan last week, beginning in
water around 20 feet deep. Monty Graham, a University of South Alabama
scientist, theorized that the population of oil-consuming microbes had
swelled. Sea life begins to die if oxygen levels drop below 2 parts per
million. "We saw some very low oxygen levels, some below 1," said
Graham, of testing he conducted aboard a Dauphin Island Sea Lab
research vessel. He said that the layer of low-oxygen water closest to
shore off Fort Morgan began at the bottom and rose up 30 feet.

Graham
said he believed that the low oxygen levels were responsible for
reports of strange behavior among fish: "The low oxygen explains things
we've been hearing, like reports of flounder swimming on the surface."

The
low-oxygen levels offshore may also explain the dense aggregations of
fish seen in the surf zone. The turbulent area near shore is naturally
high in oxygen due to the influence of the breaking waves.

There
are numerous reports that suggest that oil is moving beneath the
surface in Alabama waters. State officials conducting shrimp trawls in
the Mississippi Sound two weeks ago found oil on their nets when they
pulled them. More recently, BP contractors working around Dauphin
Island reported oil coming up on their anchors.

Gulf Coast Residents Hit Hard

It's not just the sealife.

Gulf
coast residents are being hit hard as well.

David Kotok of
Cumberland Advisors estimates
that one million jobs will be lost permanently
in the Gulf coast oil services and supporting industries.

The
House Judiciary Committee has found:

  • As of ... Tuesday, June 15th, BP had paid less than 12 percent ($71 million
    dollars out of an estimated $600 million) of outstanding claims
    submitted by individuals and businesses.
  • Two
    weeks after the disaster, BP had not paid a single dollar to the
    individuals or businesses harmed by the explosion and the oil spill.
    As of May 18th (four weeks post-disaster), BP had only paid $11,673,616.
  • In
    apparent response to congressional oversight and the efforts of the
    federal government, BP began increasing their payments to affected
    individuals and businesses in the past few weeks.
  • Although
    the oil spill disaster occurred on April 20th, BP has only begun to
    compensate individuals for their full loss of income in the past two
    weeks. We understand individuals continue to experience delays in the
    receipt of full income awards.
  • BP has not paid a single bodily injury claim.
    As of Friday, June 18th, there were 717 claims submitted for bodily
    injury, including claims for respiratory issues, headaches, and skin
    irritation.
  • BP has not paid a single claim for the diminishment in value of
    homes in the affected areas
    of the Gulf South, out of a total
    175 claims submitted.
  • Out of the 267
    claims submitted, BP has paid only $169,371 in loss of income claims
    for affected restaurants. However, the lack of data from BP on the
    damage amounts requested by the affected restaurants or the number of
    claims paid makes it impossible for the Committee to determine if
    restaurants and other Gulf Coast businesses are being properly
    compensated.

"I remain concerned that BP is stiffing too many
victims and short-changing others," [Committee Chairman John] Conyers
said.

Reuters notes
that BP is paying only a fraction of what the fishermen think they're
entitled to.

USA Today notes:

State
officials in Louisiana and Florida say the payouts, so far, have been
small and often too slow and that BP hasn't given them the data they
need to adequately monitor the process.

WDSU reports:

Some
people claim the payout process is unorganized, and other said there
is no system in place to account for how many days the fishermen have
worked and no clear time frame for when they'll see the money they've
earned.

The L.A. Times notes that:

BP's
request for tax records poses a problem for some residents of fishing
communities in southeastern Louisiana — the nonconformists who haven't
kept records or reported their cash income.

Time
Magazine makes a similar point:

Fishing
can bring in a lot of money in a very short period of time during the
right season, but fishermen might be hard-pressed to provide evidence —
bank statements, pay stubs — that can back that up. The same goes for
many other businesses: if receipts are dwindling at a restaurant, or
guests are cancelling at a resort, how is it possible to prove that the
spill alone is responsible? "We're stuck in the middle," says Chris
Camardelle, whose seafood restaurant in Grand Isle has been badly hurt
by the oil spill. "So it's a tricky situation."

Indeed,
there are reports that businesses who sell to fishermen are faring even worse than the fishermen
themselves.

The above-linked USA Today article provides an
example of the difficulties faced by non-fishermen:

[Ray
Chagnard, owner of Chag's Fishing and Marine Supply store] says he sent
documents in twice that were lost, including three years of personal
and business tax returns, monthly sales figures and profit-and-loss
statements.

 

"I'm at five weeks, and I
haven't got a dime," Chagnard says, despite claims on BP's website that
"reasonable effort" will made to provide interim payments to claimants
within 48 hours.

 

***

 

Chagnard says that puts him in a tough spot,
because his fishing-supply distributors are expecting payment for
inventory that Chagnard can't sell, because the spill has squashed the
fishing industry. "I can't imagine going through this again next month,"
Chagnard says.

Given that
the oil spill is killing not only fish and crabs - but the American
dream for millions of Gulf Coast fishermen, shrimpers, tourist industry
workers and others - the image in the photograph above is very powerful
indeed.