Reporting from the Gulf Coast

by Catherine Schmitt

A few months ago I wrote a story (with Heather Deese) about potential effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Maine. One of the reasons why I wrote this story was to remind people that the seas and gulfs of the world are one big ocean. That’s why Earth is called The Blue Planet. The oceans are connected by currents and jet streams, and the birds, fish, and mammals who travel between them.

But what happens in the Gulf is important for reasons besides how our own backyard or favorite fish might be affected. People who live in the coastal communities of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle rely heavily on just a few industries: petroleum, seafood, tourism. This portrait is not so different in Maine. We share their vulnerabilities, and we need to pay attention to their experiences and support them as they continue to recover and rebuild from multiple disasters.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, its that I can’t write about the oil disaster without writing about hurricanes, because the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting gusher that poured five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico hit an already injured coast, and so the response and reaction to yet another catastrophe is different, as the first influences the second. Scientists might call it a trophic cascade, in which changes at one level of organization ripple through an entire web. Catastrophes cascade, and people live on.

I think this story continues to have significance and relevance outside of the Gulf Coast, and I plan to do some reporting on the issue in this blog space while I’m in New Orleans for Sea Grant Week, the biennial gathering of the Sea Grant Network.

Stay tuned.