Treehuggers International

Below the Surface at the Gulf of Mexico

August 13th, 2010

Jared Criscuolo from Below the Surface

Treehuggers International welcomes Below the Surface co-founder Jared Criscuolo, who talks about the organization he established with fellow Surfrider activist Kristian Gustavson.

From Kristian’s introduction to the Mississippi Delta during Below the Surface’s Downstream Campaign, to the duo attending a town hall meeting in Mississippi and a strange visit to Ship Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the midst of the spill, Jared discusses how the BP oil disaster is inexorably affecting a region wholly dependent upon the sea, from oil and gas extraction to generations of deep-sea fishermen and wetlands shrimpers.

Below the Surface: Jared Criscuolo (L) and Kristian Gustavson (R).

More Than the Sea Can Bear

After an unprecedented three-month deluge of millions of barrels of crude oil into the sea, the immediate crisis of the BP oil spill has come to an end with the capping of the blown-out Macondo well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, but the clean-up and recovery of the Gulf Coast and the vast, affected areas of the Gulf of Mexico will be going on for months, if not years.

The BP spill has already become the worst maritime oil disaster in history, far eclipsing the notorious 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, and the 1969 Santa Barbara Channel oil well blowout, which to this day continues to be the source of layers of sticky oil embedded in the sand of Santa Barbara beaches, and tarballs washing ashore along California’s Central Coast.

Cleaning a brown pelican in Ft. Jackson, Louisiana.

The economic impact of the BP oil spill on Gulf Coast communities became painfully clear in the weeks after the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon. Dozens of popular beaches and seaside communities in four states have been affected, with many locales off-limits since spring, spelling disaster for thousands of regional merchants which depend upon tourism to see them through the year.

The impact to Gulf Coast fishing may even be more long-lasting, as fishermen struggle to find available harvest in the midst of ruined oyster beds and shrimping grounds in the Gulf Coast’s oil-soaked wetlands, while deep sea fishing has been reduced to starvation, with over one-third of the Gulf of Mexico now closed to commercial fishing.

The final toll on wildlife has yet to be determined, but it may be more than we, or the sea, can bear. The total number of brown pelicans, sea turtles, crabs, otters, dolphins, and whales lost may never be known, and concrete numbers remain hard to come by, especially with hundreds of washed-up or oil-ridden corpses hidden or removed by BP or government officials, often in roped-off areas out of sight from journalists and the public. The calamitous impact on fish is simply too early to tell, as vast undersea plumes of oil, some stretching thousands of feet deep, lurk just beneath the surface polluting, contaminating, and killing. The effects of oil-dispersing chemicals on marine life, sprayed onto the surface of the Gulf of Mexico for months on end, also has yet to be fully determined.

Taking readings on a tainted beach.

Below the Surface

Jared Criscuolo and Kristian Gustavson recently returned from an emergency trip to the Gulf of Mexico as part of their work promoting water conservation and improving water quality in rivers and oceans with their non-profit organization, Below the Surface.

The two met while doing work for the Surfrider Foundation, and upon forming Below the Surface began a number of high-profile expeditions of some of the wildest and most at-risk waterways in the nation, to highlight the need for clean and responsible water policies from the headwaters of creeks and streams to the mouths of the biggest rivers.

Kristian first explored the Gulf Coast region and the Mississippi River as part of Below the Surface’s Downstream Campaign, followed by an expedition of the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi and one of Louisiana’s last wild waterways. The contacts Kristian, and later, Jared made during these expeditions paid dividends when they returned to the Gulf Coast to get a firsthand look at the damage wrought by the BP oil spill.

Kristian and Jared have also undertaken explorations of California’s Sacramento River as the basis of their Spring to Sandtrap expedition, following the length of the river from the headwaters in the Mt. Shasta high country into the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Delta, and Jared represented Below the Surface on the Coastal CODE expedition of the Alaskan panhandle, working on a weeklong beach clean-up effort with the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and addressing the global impact of litter and debris accumulating in the world’s oceans.

Photos by kind courtesy of Pat Heidingsfelder, except where noted.

Kristian and Jared with another oil spill casualty, Gulf Islands National Seashore.

More about this post at:

For more on Below the Surface, check out this “sizzle reel” of the duo’s cable TV project, River Warriors.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Trackbacks on this post


Website by BinaryM & WordPress