We received the following dispatch from Carter Lavin, an Oceana supporter, environmental activist and energy-issue blogger, about his experience volunteering in the gulf. You can read more from him here.
Two weeks ago I had this idea that I would fly down to New Orleans and sign up to help clean up oil from the beaches of southern Louisiana. I would then catch one of the dozens of buses that were going from Jackson Square to the beaches for the clean up along with hundreds of other volunteers. We would spend the whole day there, clean up the beach, rescue a pelican or two and then head home.
I learned a few things about the clean up effort rather quickly. I learned that southern Louisiana does not really have beaches to clean; it’s nearly all marshlands. This means most clean up efforts have to be done from a boat, or the places are only boat accessible. Plus, you need to be certified to clean up hazardous materials, which requires 40 hours of training.
So while I could not help out with the cleanup itself, I was able to sign up with various social service agencies in the area to help out the people who were affected by the spill. I ended up volunteering in the southern Louisiana town of Port Sulphur helping fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen and crabbers who have lost their livelihoods get food and sign up for various social services like food stamps and debt assistance.
My job was simple: Record information about the fishermen — name, address, family size — and then give them a box of food that was prepared by Second Harvest. Most of the time I carried the box to their car and we’d chat on the way. I spoke with a lot of them about how they were doing, what they are planning to do next, and I tried to provide what emotional support I could for these people who are now out of work, a few boat payments behind and with no other alternatives.
Shrimpers and fishermen in the region make their yearly income during the few months of the summer that their catch is in season. But now that many of the fisheries are closed because of the oil spill, they are all out of work and falling behind on mortgage payments, car payments, boat payments, and are starting to run out of money for food.
A lot of them told me about how they were getting loans from the Small Business Administration disaster relief program to cover their payments for a year. But they also pointed out that the damage done by the oil spill to the fishery probably will make it hard to get a good, clean catch next year and the year after. They are going to be out of work for a while.
Thousands of people like the ones I met in Port Sulphur depend on the sea for the livelihoods. The oil spill has caused untold ecological damage and it must be contained and cleaned up quickly to avoid further catastrophic harm to the environment. But what has already happened has locked hundreds of formerly self-sufficient, middle-class people into a cycle of poverty and reliance on others.
We must clean up the coast and we must help these fishermen rebuild their lives.