Friday, July 30, 2010

Be the One

Friday, July 16, 2010


Waveland, MS

“This sucks, man,” says Matthew May as he surveys the oil on the formerly pristine beaches of Waveland. “And it stinks, too.” May, who moved to Mississippi from Chicago in 1986 to join family here, has just returned from a trip to the windy city. He’s collected a mess of tar balls on a piece of wood, careful not to touch the toxic goop.

It’s the first he’s seen of the oil, although he found mullet carcasses on the beach three weeks after the Deepwater Horizon exploded. “And let me tell you,” he says, “nothing kills mullets.”

A car mechanic by profession, May’s passion is fishing.  He used to spend every weekend on the gulf waters, which he considers to have some of the best shark fishing anywhere. Now his hobby is spoiled. He’s also one of a growing population in the community not working directly with oil or seafood who nonetheless is suffering reverberations from the spill. “Nothing’s going on here,” he says, “It’s dead.”

He eyes the clean-up crews down the beach. They close up their tents as the workday ends, and claim they didn’t find much oil today. “They’re picking up garbage,” he says with disgust. “But it’s not the trash we’re worried about.”

-Claire Layrisson
 Photos: Claire Layrisson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Life's a Beach

Waveland, MS

The beaches of Waveland, Mississippi, are closed right now, but that doesn’t stop Wayne Newman and his wife, Sheena, from setting up their umbrella and chairs on the sands to gaze at the waters of the gulf each day. “It’s a soft closing,” Wayne explains, meaning that no one will be thrown off the beach, although caution is advised.

The beaches look different than they did when the couple moved from Kentwood six years ago after Wayne was transferred for work. Tar balls and booms now spoil the view, and the Newmans are alone out here save the clean-up workers. “But we’re going to stick around. We love it,” Wayne says, which is obvious – they closed on their house across the road just two days after Hurricane Katrina. He adds, “It’s not the beach or the sand’s fault.”

Dead fish floated ashore way before the oil showed up.  “I buried them in the sea oats because I’m part Indian,” he says. “That’s just what Indians do.” He’s dismayed at the slow pace of the cleanup crews– “they’re twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off” - and he reports broken boom and keeps his eye out. “Obama said he’d get more jobs for the community. I didn’t think it would be this way.”

Wayne has experience with oil companies. He worked offshore for three years, and his father retired from a position with Transocean right before the spill. He blames the disaster on big money and corruption, but doubts BP or the government will be able to clean up the mess. “There’s only so much man can do,” he says. “This one’s for Mother Nature up above.” He thinks maybe a hurricane will slosh all the oil away, or bring it onshore where it can be cleaned up.

An employee at the Waveland Wal-Mart, Wayne tried to buy a British flag there the other day, but the mega-chain doesn’t sell them. “I wanted to fly it half mast, with the American flag on top,” he says.

-Claire Layrisson

Photos: Claire Layrisson

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Photos by Mary Clayton Carl

We Made this Bed

 Eddie Kurtich knows oysters, and he’s worried. The owner of Eddie’s Quality Oysters, Inc., he’s been eating Louisiana oysters since he came here from Croatia 50 years ago. He likes them grilled or sautéed in a little wine and olive oil; raw oysters he enjoys only when they’re really salty. But now the beds are closed, and some of the oysters are dying. Instead of running a bustling business, Eddie sits at his desk preparing his claims for BP, documenting losses for each interminable month that the crisis goes on.

 Eddie got into oysters by chance when he married in the 1960s. His wife’s uncle had a convenient store in Port Sulfur and there was an oyster-shucking shop next door.  Eddie eventually got both, but when traffic through the town slowed with the decline in demand for sulfur, Eddie closed the store and built up the oyster business, from shucking and retail to wholesale and shipping out of state.

 The degradation to the coast before the spill was already affecting the oysters, Eddie says, and the restoration projects are too little and way too late. “Oysters need current to feed,” he explains, ruminating on the crustaceans of the past when the vast marshland and bayous provided prime habitat. No one knows for certain why the oysters are dying now, but Eddie thinks they are being dealt a triple blow from the possibly toxic dispersants, the sand berms restricting the gulf’s flow, and the loss of oxygen in the water from the oil.

 With the future uncertain for Eddie and the oysters, he’s stuck in limbo, “I’m 66. I’ve done this or so long. I didn’t learn to fish, hunt or play golf,” he says, looking down at the mound of paperwork.  For those not out on the water helping with the clean up, there’s not much else to do. “I hear even the strip clubs are filing claims,” he says.

-Claire Layrisson


Thursday, July 1, 2010