By Brandon Sutton
Photos by Terrell Clark

On April 20, 2010, life along the Gulf coast changed dramatically due to the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing oil spill. One year later, it can seem like a distant memory in the collective psyche. However, this oil spill and its impacts are ongoing and far-reaching.

My passion for understanding oil dependence and alternative energy sources called me to service on this issue. The first images of oil erupting into the Gulf horrified me, and I knew I had to do something to help.

I worked with Hub Atlanta to form a team of volunteers that visited the Gulf coast to document the oil spill and its impacts on local communities who depend on the health of the Gulf for survival. Photographer Terrell Clark, videographer/film maker Nathan Black, communications director Kim Campbell, and research/planning director Andy Cleary came onboard to help tell this story. The work is not done.

Members of the team are working on a series of events, exhibits, and a return trip to the Gulf coast this month to continue documenting the spill’s ongoing impacts along the coast. For those of us who do not live on the coast or have a direct connection to the area, it may be easy to move on. After all, we’ve stopped being bombarded by the horrific images of oil erupting into the Gulf that went on for 3 months in a row last summer. But just because the oil stopped flowing does not mean the spill is over.

Stories of oil washing up on shore, public health concerns, increased dolphin mortality, and general unease with the situation down in the Gulf are emerging in a steady stream of articles, news reports and scientific studies from across the Gulf coast. As much as we would like to believe that everything has been returned to normal, it just isn’t that simple. We continue to document the stories of the affected communities through blog posts, still photography and video recordings from the region.

Our original expedition in August 2010 allowed us to get a sense of how the residents in small coastal communities were handling this unprecedented disaster. The recordings ultimately became a fine art photo exhibit and a 30-minute documentary film that has been shown at local universities and other community organizations here in Atlanta. We are taking this foundation and building upon it with additional footage and imagery so that the evolving story is available for everyone to access.

When we went to the coast last summer, we were welcomed into the communities with kindness and generosity that is often lacking in the urban environment where we live. Josie Cheramie of the Grand Isle, Louisiana Port Commission helped us find lodging on the island when all the rooms were booked due to the cleanup operation. She connected us with a man who opened his beachfront home for our team to stay in at the last minute. He didn’t ask for a deposit, or even know my full name. He left the key out and told me where to find it. This openness and generosity was incredibly humbling, and it felt that we were there for a higher purpose.

Atlanta resident Cameron Beach (aka the Mountain Man) connected me with Katrina survivors in Pearlington, Mississippi who were also gracious and happy to share their stories with us. And in Coden, Alabama, we met Lori Bosarge, an incredible woman who was disturbed by the use of dispersants in the cleanup operation and actively sought to raise awareness of the adverse impacts of this aspect of the spill. Nearly everyone we met was willing to share their stories with us, and we stay in touch with many of them on a regular basis. There are still stories that are yet untold, and lessons that are yet unlearned, which keeps me pursuing this cause today.

When the spill first began, the knee-jerk reaction for many people was to boycott BP. I felt that this approach was over-simplifying the problem and there was an opportunity to have a larger conversation about our insatiable demand for oil. I believe that there are important lessons for us to learn from the oil spill and that we can all play a part in the rebuilding of not only the Gulf, but of the system that led to the spill in the first place. It begins with awareness of the issues.

For me, it started with a neighbor handing me a stack of books on oil dependence in 2008. I researched and studied the issue, and saw how oil permeates essentially every aspect of our lives. Once I started to learn what a big problem this was, I made changes in my own behavior. I wanted to be part of the solution, and I still do.

This April, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on what happened last year in the Gulf and follow along as we continue to document this developing story. For photography lovers, our photo exhibit is currently on display at Hub Atlanta with receptions planned for April.

On April 14, there will a photo exhibit featuring images from our 2010 expedition with photographer Terrell Clark, and also a panel discussion on “What Is the True Cost of Oil’ at 6:30 p.m. at Hub Atlanta (HubAtlanta.com), 1375 Spring St.

Visit SpiritOfTheGulfCoast.com to read, watch, and listen to the voices of the people of the coast and stay abreast of updates and upcoming events. If you’re ready to take the steps in your own life, there are resources on the site to help get you started. Thanks for being part of the solution!

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

9 replies on “Spirit of the Gulf Coast”

  1. Thanks so much for including the article in this issue! I’m always grateful for the opportunity to share these ongoing stories of how life along the coast continues to be impacted. Hopefully this is helpful in continuing to raise awareness of the complex issues of oil dependence and offshore drilling.

    The work continues…

  2. the use of dispersants worries me… i do not fully understand this concept… or what chemicals they are… it just sounds nasty… dispersing seems to mean out of sight out of mind… but i’m sure it is all still there, plus the chemicals used… the infant dolphin mortality is troubling… i have a huge respect for these ocean mammals… with there nervous system being more complex than human… makes you wonder who is truly more evolved… a douglas adams quote comes to mind from the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy… “so long and thanks for all the fish”… this is what the dolphins said to us just before they decided to leave this dimension… i truly wish we could get past our capacity for greed and get to work on the progress of living… in harmony with our mother earth…

  3. First of all the Google BP ads need to get off this page. I’m so very thankful for this team, Spirit of the Gulf Coast. They are a compassionate group of people that truly care about what is happening down here. I appreciate this team and their sponsors for their support in the efforts to get to the real truth about the disaster of the gulf. I want to thank all that is working and following SOTGC team. As a member of the coastal community I feel blessed that there are folks across the country that are willing to take a stand for what is right. I can’t explain in words how hard it is to live in this day after day. Planes flying over, still spraying and now I know when they spray because I have an asthma attack. I pray for the many that are much sicker than I and I pray that God will continue to work through such wonder people that I have met in the SpiritoftheGulfCoast.

  4. Brandon we’re so proud of you for being so passionate about these issues, & doing your part in making the world a better place. The article is outstanding!!

  5. Glad to see folks like Brandon bringing awareness to this issue. The Chemical dispersements used in the CleanUp are definitely in question. The story of the Exxon Valdez in Alaska (20 yrs ago) tells what happens years after exposure from these chemicals. In cpomparision, the chemicals used in the GULF CleanUp were the same formula used for over 30 years.

    I hope we (as society) can find a better way to survive w/o overconsuming OIL. Working to do my part as an ECO-Designer. Remember, Renewable Energy Technologies are the KEY — Go GREEN

  6. I am glad to see the inclusion of this article in your publication. As a former resident of Atlanta now liviing in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the ongoing fallout from this environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Brandon is right…out of sight out of mind and that was the brilliance of the decision to use dispersants. It removed the horror of seeing oiled wildlife from the national tv screens & the American psyche while the insidious killer did it’s damage below the surface. To use this product without vetted testing for it’s affect on the environment, marine life & human health is simply unconscionable.

    While the government agencies continue to claim the seafood is safe to eat, serious questions remain as long time fisherman report a significant reduction in their catch numbers and some are describing that some of the fish “just do not look right”. Then we find out that only a total of 250 seafood samples have been taken throughout the entire peninsula of Florida including the panhandle, east & west coast. Can you imagine? Not only is this shocking but there was no test developed to check for the presence of dispersant in seafood until about a week ago! So I say…eat at your own risk & I have family in the Gulf seafood business.

    It is sad & disapointing to think about the irresponsible actions from industry as well as government regarding risky deepwater oil drilling. This week we learned that 6 new permits were issued to several companies including BP. Has significant safety legislation been passed since April 20,2010? No. As a matter of fact the very same emergency spill plan that BP used prior to 4-2-10, was submitted with it’s new drilling permit application and dated 2009. The application was the first to be approved. And furthermore, while a Norwegian company commissioned to investigate the integrity of the blowout preventers reported that the equipment used on the Deepwater Horizon and nearly every well in the Gulf of Mexico has a serious design flaw making it a crap shoot as to whether or not it will work in the face of another incident, no requirement has been made to use a new corrected design. Shameful!

    The Gulf is still beautiful…the beaches are still prettier than most…but we are still getting tarballs & dispersant on our beaches everyday. The unanswered questions are what keep me up at night.

  7. Brandon! This article is incredible – well-written and chockful of information that your readers will eat up. As we all deal with the horrors coming out of Japan, I have worried that those suffering in the Gulf (including wildlife and marine life) will be eclipsed in the world consciousness. Thank you for shining a light on this ongoing catastrophe.

    Yes, it’s been nearly a year. I hope everyone has learned from this episode.

    Thank you too for pointing out that simply villifying BP (or boycotting, as you stated) is not so much the answer as is looking at our own everyday habits and making changes.

    I have reported on this since July and will continue to do so for as long as it takes.

    Great work you are doing. Wish I could see the show in Atlanta.

  8. I am increasingly frustrated that there is NOTHING on the news about this oil spill (corporate back scratching anyone?) I would hope the American people get their heads out of the sand & realize oil does not evaporate. I appreciate any articles & efforts to keep this issue alive, so thank you!

  9. Thank you all for your comments and insights. It’s great to see so much discussion on this issue in Atlanta and beyond. I wasn’t sure whether or not people would be responsive to the material since it’s so far off the mainstream radar.

    We will continue to follow this story and its impact on the Gulf coast and beyond. You can help by sharing this article and/or our website, http://spiritofthegulfcoast.com with your friends, family, associates, etc. The more people realize the ongoing impact of this disaster, the more likely that meaningful change will occur. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to take everyone pitching in to move the needle.

    Thanks again for reading!

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