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Spill vs. Disaster

National Geographic Emerging Explorer Roshini Thinakaran is documenting life in Buras, a small fishing community in Louisiana, in the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is her second blog post for Nat Geo News Watch.

By Roshini Thinakaran

“When you get that water in your blood … it’s over,” was JJ Creppel’s response to me when I asked if he has ever thought of leaving Buras, Louisiana.

JJ is a member of the United Houma Tribe born and raised in Buras. What Hurricane Katrina didn’t destroy five years ago, 55 year old-JJ is losing in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil disaster.

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Photo by Rocky Kistner, NRDC

We met three days into the scout trip I took in October. JJ was shrimping in a bayou off Hwy 23, the road connecting lower Plaquemines to the suburbs of New Orleans. Rocky Kistner, a reporter with NRDC, introduced us. Rocky believed the meeting would help me understand the full scope of what was happening to Gulf communities because of the BP oil disaster. 

“it would have been more a year ago,” JJ said as he pulled in the net. He had been fishing since he was five and learned how to make his own nets at fifteen.  The morning we met, all he caught were four shrimp and a few pogies, enough to survive on but not much to sell.

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Photo by Rocky Kistner, NRDC

Fishermen like JJ have a deep understanding of these waters, it’s not based on a science but rather on decades of experience and knowledge handed down by their fathers and grandfathers.  Without a doubt, it was a way of life.

A short drive away from where he was shrimping, JJ and his wife lived in a trailer they were renting for $100 a month. He said before the oil disaster, they were doing ok, managing to pay bills and make it; JJ even owned his own boat.  As a result of mounting debt because there was no work, JJ had to eventually sell the boat.

Rocky and JJ met at the Dollar Store in Buras. The two men had an immediate connection and since Rocky has been following JJ’s story.  One that is all too familiar to thousands of families in the Louisiana bayou.  Rocky’s blogs posted on Huffington Post soon garnered JJ national attention. He was asked to attend a congressional hearing in Washington, DC about the impact of the BP oil disaster.

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Photo by Rocky Kistner, NRDC

Rocky also linked JJ up with a food charity in Plaquemines Parish- but charity only last for so long down here in the bayou. It’s a culture based on providing for yourself by taking from what nature has provided. He took it upon himself to help JJ buy a used boat and for the first time since the oil disaster, JJ found hope. The BP oil disaster of 2010 is far from being over, it’s a disaster that has impacted countless lives, so let’s stop calling it a spill. We spill milk. When millions of barrels of oil pours into one of the world’s most unique ecosystems and pulls apart thousands of lives, it’s called a disaster.

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Roshini Thinakaran has lived and worked in some of the most fascinating places on Earth, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Dubai. She was selected as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and TED Global Fellow for her work examining the impact of war on women for Women at the Forefront, a multimedia project she began in 2006. Her current project focuses on a small Louisiana town coping with the oil disaster of 2010. Read more about Roshini and her work on her website Women at the Forefront. (http://roshinithinakaran.com/)

Read blog posts by Roshini Thinakaran.