The Beach Gets a Deep Clean

by Catherine Schmitt

GULF SHORES, AL – Arrived here Wednesday night, after stopping at the legendary Florabama roadhouse. In the morning, on the beach in front of the hotel, was a BP oil cleanup crew. Workers in yellow rubber boots duct-taped to their jeans stood in a line, watching the sand as tractors and sifters graded and sifted the sand. To the side, four-wheelers and carts stood by with plastic bags and nets, in case anyone saw any oil.

It was a beautiful day, warm sunshine, and lots of people were crossing the work area to get to the water. Kids played in the water as the workers netted tar balls (pebbles, really) from the white sand.

I had no idea this was still going on. The Northeast media left the Gulf Coast long ago to hit the campaign trail, taking with them images of beach cleanup and out-of-work fishermen. But the oil is still here, is still washing up on the beach. As I looked more closely at the sea floor beneath the waves, I saw what looked like reddish pebbles, worn smooth by the ocean, but on closer inspection turned out to be clumps of oil, sticky smears that smelled of petroleum. And the more I looked, the more I saw.

I found out later that the beach operation was a “deep clean,” a 24-inch raking processes that began after the summer tourist season.