Text and photos by Carl Safina
I am now bouncing around the southern Louisiana delta region, through the mixture of poverty and affluence (mostly poverty) and the many visible scars and reminders of Katrina. Sensing the spirit of people who’d been rebounding post-Katrina, but now feel truly scared that their economy and their future is ruined forever, is quietly horrifying.
The oil has not yet really hit shore. In fact, yesterday I went out about 20 miles in a boat, well within an area (and to a specific island) that media maps showed fully within part of the slick, yet saw no oil in the water at all.
But because fishing is already closed, the spill’s effects on the coastal economy have arrived in full. Many feel that they are suddenly off the water for life, with no alternatives. Though I’ve been a critic of overfishing in the Gulf, I certainly hope that somehow the oil and its aftermath turn out not so catastrophic that an entire economy and way of life—and ecosystem—are all permanently spoiled. At the moment we are all clinging to a vague hope that somehow it won’t turn out so catastrophic. Some regions have recovered from other oil blowouts. Some have not.
To see families in small boats, old local people crabbing in the canals, and the enormous pride with which people rebuilt waterside fishing retreats that Katrina had wholly swept away, is to sense many connections between the people here and my own loves.
Of course, they don’t need me to justify their existence. Human dignity is its own justification, and many people here, citizens of our imperfectly united country, feel that they may have just lost theirs. They could always depend on the marshes and waters and fishes and shellfish, no matter what. But now that blessed assurance is suspended indefinitely.