Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), was featured in our October issue as one of five standout Gulf citizens who pioneered cleanup efforts the oil spill disaster. Read below her thoughts on the true state of the region now:
"Despite what you may have read in the news, the oil has not disappeared from the Gulf. Every few days, oil continues to wash up on beaches in coastal Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. There are still tens of millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf and much more dispersed oil below the surface. Moreover, scientists continue to find more areas of the seabed where oil has settled on the ocean bottom. It is critical that the ecosystem be monitored over the long term to ensure that we identify long-term impacts to the Gulf’s natural resources as they emerge. We know that the effects of the Exxon Valdez were felt for many years, and, since the BP Horizon disaster was 15 times as large, we must be prepared to identify and address the impacts for decades to come.
The oil spill changed many lives throughout the Gulf. For me, the most memorable moment was when BP and the Unified Joint Command admitted that they were incapable of stemming the flow of oil into the Gulf. Despite claims made by BP in the permitting process and federal approval of the oil spill response plan for the BP Horizon, the truth is that it took BP nearly three months of experimenting and fabricating response equipment on the fly to finally stop the oil gusher. Even the best mines from the oil industry working together could not find a solution in less than three months. Clearly, realistic and effective oil spill response plans are critical. In the end, though, to ensure that the oil industry and federal agencies remain vigilant in that is inherently a dangerous business, we need a regional Citizens’ Advisory Council to ensure that affected communities are formally involved in the oversight of both future drilling decisions and the ability of the industry and the government to respond to potential spills.
The truth is that, even after the oil has ceased to flow, the damage wrought continues. Fishing, recreation, seafood and tourism are the cornerstones of the Gulf economy, its coastal communities and its culture. Yet, these industries, and the ecosystems they rely on, are now struggling to survive in the wake of this disaster. Resources and support must be available to all of those affected if Gulf communities are ever to be made whole.
The nation must ensure that BP is held accountable for fully restoring the Gulf, that our communities are made whole, and that this type of disaster is never allowed to happen again." –Cynthia Sarthou