“How do we tell a generation of young people who live and breathe this bayou life that they love so much could soon be gone?”
—Michael Roberts, Association of Family Fishermen, Inc.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig kicked off the largest offshore oil spill in history, as nearly five million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf Coast over the next several months. Four years later, most of that oil is still there, and will be for years to come.
Any damage to natural resources has disproportionate impacts on the health and well-being of low-income and vulnerable populations. The spill was no different. Communities—particularly fishing communities—are still struggling to cope with the devastating impacts on their livelihoods, families, and communities. Oxfam America had been working in the Gulf Coast before the spill, focusing our attention on the challenges facing people of the coastal communities: sea-level rise, hurricanes, struggling economies, and cultures at risk.
Since the spill, we’ve been working with the local communities that were already vulnerable, and that felt the impact the most; and helping to find ways for them to get jobs in upcoming coastal restoration projects that will be funded by fines and penalties against BP and its business partners. For all the attention paid to the environmental damage or impacts on tourism, all too little attention has been paid to the people in the coastal communities where tarballs from the spill continue to wash to shore four years later.
In small communities like Dulac, LA, East Biloxi, MS, or Bayou La Batre, AL, we hear stories every day of how this disaster continues to impact low-income families. To highlight these challenges, Oxfam recently published a new research report based on interviews with residents of the coast’s fishing communities, A Way of Life at Risk. Another recent report from Oxfam and the Center for American Progress found that ecosystem restoration projects can return 15 dollars in benefits for every dollar invested, and can create 17 jobs for every million dollars invested. Ensuring that these projects restore fisheries and put people to work, particularly in our most vulnerable populations along the coast, will be critical.