Speak Your Piece: Summer of Tears

[imgbelt img=barataria-bay-oil-spill-satellite320.jpg]A lifelong fisherman of South Louisiana’s coastal waters reports with disbelief. The BP disaster has hit home.



Satellite photo shows oil pouring into Barataria Bay.

I am not real emotional and consider myself a pretty tough guy.  You have to be to survive as a fisherman.  As I left that scene, tears flowed down my face and I cried — something I have not done in a long time, but would do several more times that day. I tried not to let my grandson, Scottie, see me crying. I didn’t think he would understand, I was crying for his stolen future.  None of this will be the same, for decades to come. The damage is going to be immense and I do not think our lives here in South Louisiana will ever be the same. He is too young to understand. He has an intense love for our way of life here. He wants to be a fisherman and a fishing guide when he gets older. It is what he is, it is in his soul, and it is his culture.

How can I tell him that this may never come to pass now, now that everything he loves in the outdoors may soon be destroyed by this massive oil spill?  How do we tell this to a generation of young people in South Louisiana, who live and breathe this bayou life that they love so much, could soon be gone?  How do we tell them?  All this raced through my mind and I wept. 

We continued farther south towards Grand Terre Island. We approached Bird Island.  The real name is Queen Bess Island, but we call it Bird Island, because it is always full of birds. It is a rookery, a nesting island for thousands of birds, pelicans, terns, and gulls. As we got closer, we saw that protective boom had been placed around about two thirds of the island. It was obvious to me, that oil had gone under the boom and was fouling the shore and had undoubtedly reached some birds.  My God. 

red pebbles of oil washing up on the beach with every wave.  At the high tide point on the beach, the oil pebbles were melting into pools of red goo in the hot Louisiana sun.

The damage was overwhelming. There was nobody there to clean it up. It would take an army to do it. This place, like so much of coastal Louisiana, is accessible only by boat. Will it ever be cleaned up? I don’t know. Tears again. We soon left that beach and started to head home. 

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Michael Roberts

We took a little different route home, staying farther to the east side of Barataria Bay.  As we approached the northern end of the bay, we ran into another raft of oil that appeared to be covering many square miles. This was only a mile from the interior bayous on the north side of Barataria Bay. My God. No boats were towing boom in this area. I do not think anyone even knew it was there. A little bit farther north, we saw some shrimp boats with boom, on anchor, waiting to try to protect Bayou St. Dennis. I alerted them of the approaching oil. I hope they were able to control it before it reached the bayou. We left them and started to head in. 

My heart never felt so heavy as on that ride in. I thought to myself, this is the most I’ve cried since I was a baby.  In fact I am sure it was. This will be a summer of tears for a lot of us in South Louisiana.

Note: Michael Roberts and his wife, Tracy Kuhns, of Lafitte, Louisiana, have worked as fishermen in the waters of Barataria Bay and South Louisiana for 40 years. Their Louisiana Bayoukeeper organizes fishing families to manage and advocate for the region’s natural resources, wildlife, and culture.