The relentless oil spill
There’s a huge amount of public anger over BP’s damaged oil rig and there will be endless demands for accountability and countless inquiries into what went wrong on April 20 - and how to prevent a similar incident.
Parts of the Gulf of Mexico are like a holiday postcard.
The water colour changes from deep blue to green, the birdlife is all around and the marine life is magnificent. No wonder the region is such a popular tourist destination and hot spot for leisure fishing.
But for thousands of people who live here, the water is their lifeline. Their hauls of fish, crab and shrimp are their pay cheque. All of this is now under threat from a huge oil slick.
We spent six hours on a boat in the Gulf, and seeing everything that’s at risk was heartbreaking.
The two boat skippers who gave us a tour knew the Gulf intimately, pointing out the best fishing spots, explaining how the brown pelican population had returned after being on the brink of extinction and taking us to the beautiful Chandeleur Islands.
Dotted along the ocean’s surface every couple of kilometres are constant reminders of the giant oil industry. We pulled up alongside an oil platform and the sheer size and scope of it took my breath away. They are amazing structures.
There’s a huge amount of public anger over BP’s damaged oil rig and there will be endless demands for accountability and countless inquiries into what went wrong on April 20 - and how to prevent a similar incident. But the oil industry is also a major employer in the region, providing thousands of jobs.
We hit our first oil streak about 65 kilometres off shore. It didn’t look like oil at first - it was an orange, pinkish colour. But it definitely has a greasy feel to it. Dispersant has been sprayed from airplanes onto the oil and it’s successfully breaking up its consistency.
But there are questions about exactly what’s in the dispersant and what effect it will have beneath the ocean and the fragile eco-systems in the short and long term.
The people on the coastline are resilient. It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastline and devastated the region. Our cameraman, Geoff Mills, has been to Gulfport, Mississippi before. He was dropped onto the town’s main street by helicopter the day after the storm hit. As we drove around, he noticed huge open areas where buildings had once been, showed me how high the water levels were back in 2005.
Everyone you talk to has at least 10 Katrina stories to tell. They survived. There are signs of reconstruction everywhere; recovery has been slow.
And now communities are bracing once again for another disaster. The oil slick is moving slowly but surely towards the coast. No-one knows yet where - or even if - it will reach the mainland.
But it looks like the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will be in a frustrating holding pattern for some time to come.