Oil spill brings ‘death in the ocean from top to bottom’
May 24, 2010
It has been an hour since our sport-fishing boat started streaking through the freshly oil-soaked marshes of Pass a Loutre, but we’re still only halfway through the slick. Eighteen miles out and the stink of oil is everywhere. Rashes of red-brown sludge are smeared across vast swaths, between them a swell rendered faintly psychedelic with rainbow-coloured swirls.
Cutting the engines, we slide to a stop near Rig 313. We’re not supposed to be in the restricted zone, but other than the dispersant-spraying aircraft passing overhead there’s no one to see us. Despite the thick oil, we’ve seen only two clean-up boats out of the 1,150 that the response claims to have on site: one was broken down, the other was towing it.
Skimming and burning are the most visible elements of the clean-up operation, and that’s no accident. Over the past few days it’s become clear that far more oil is gushing from the seabed than BP had admitted. Oil has been prevented from reaching the surface by dispersants injected into the flow some 5,000ft below, but is spreading through the midwater in vast, dilute plumes.
Along with the marine toxicologist Susan Shaw, of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, I’ve come to peer into the hidden side of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Wreathed in neoprene and with Vaseline coating the exposed skin around our faces, we slip into the clear water in the lee of the boat. Beneath the mats of radioactive-looking, excrement-coloured sludge are smaller gobs of congealed oil. Taking a cautious, shallow breath through my snorkel I head downwards. Twelve metres under, the specks of sludge are smaller, but they are still everywhere.