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Photo Essay: “What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister?”

TEDxOilSpill Expedition is a week-long project to document the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and bring a first hand report back to the TEDxOilSpill event in Washington, D.C. on June 28. TEDxOilSpill Expedition blogs are being reblogged on Nat Geo News Watch. This is the last in a four part series, the first post, second post and third post of the expedition may be found at those links respectively.

By Kris Krüg


“From the air I could see 3000-5000 feet of black smoke… and what seemed like one fire was actually dozens of fires… recently heard a story of a captain who was rescuing sea turtles and realized that they were getting caught in the skimming nets that were being lit on fire.. the captain ended up checking up on the nets too much that BP let him go from his contract… the reality is that all kinds of wildlife are getting caught in the nets… and no one is getting them out before the burns.”


For over 60 days straight the Deepwater Horizon oil well has been leaking thousands of gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The tremendous amount of damaging has been stacking up the facts to register this event as a full on catastrophe for the Gulf and its coastal communities. No one has been spared when it comes to the effects of this leak. From wildlife habitats being destroyed, to fisherfolk being out of work for their fishing season, to dead marine life washing up on the beaches, there is something blatantly obvious about this situation: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill must be stopped.


All of this cataclysmic emotion and frustration has fueled the organizing of TEDxOilSpill, an event taking place in Washington, DC on June 28th. This event will host a lineup of speakers who have emotional connection to the situation in the Gulf, including scientists, researchers, policymakers and photographers. The TED-inspired event will focus on the topics of energy policy reform, Gulf of Mexico marine life research and media collected from the TEDxOilSpill Expedition team. The Expedition team consisted of writer Darron Collins, photo editor Danielle Sipple and photographers Kris Krüg, Duncan Davidson and Pinar Ozger.


Bearing witness to the situation that is unfolding in the Gulf really puts into perspective the lack of comprehensive news coverage coming out of the area, with media blackouts, misinformation and coverups. Traveling along the Gulf coast lining Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the team spoke to cleanup relief workers, displaced fisherfolk and local residents. Taking to the skies, they flew over the Southern Louisiana marshlands directly to the Deepwater Horizon oil well itself, otherwise known as ‘the Source’. Witnessing from an aerial perspective the oiled beaches, oil burns on the water surface, and a litter of tiny boats making very little progress against this immense spill was very disheartening. In fact news has just surfaced of an out of work fisherman in Alabama who committed suicide over the lack of effort in cleaning up the oil spill.


Dozens of small islands in the Barataria Bay marshlands are the homes and nesting areas to wonderful species of seabirds. Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans and even Roseate Spoonbills can be seen all on the same shore, with nests side by side. Unfortunately these small islands and these seabirds are getting hit very heavily by crude oil washing up on the shores and sometimes covering the seabirds’ feet, feathers and even their entire body. These islands are extremely remote which means getting to them can be very difficult in the cleanup attempts. Viewed from a boat ride led by an out of work fisherman, the islands were filled with dirty, forgotten boom and their beaches were absent from any sign of cleanup workers.


Taking to the skies one last time was one of the best ways to grasp the true size of the oil spill. This flight proved to be an eye-opening journey into the depths of the actual size of this oil spill. Flying from the Source directly to the coastal area of eastern Alabama, the team discovered the shocking fact: the flow of oil from the Source was a constant slick all the way to the shore of Alabama. Slow and steady, a mixture of dispersant and crude oil was yards from beach lines that had people sunbathing in beach chairs. The most shocking realization was that everyone had bits and pieces of information, but really no one had any idea where it was going, when it was going to hit and who was safe.


The expedition may be over but the emotional situation in the Gulf worsens as each day goes on. Cleanup crews work 24 hours a day in the coastal area while failed solutions are tried repeatedly at the Source. The size of the oil spill, the devastation of the constant leak and the cultural destruction of communities is overwhelming and saddening. The ironic scientific reality is that innocent marine life are being poisoned by their deceased ancestors in our glorified greedy actions. The only hope is that this is a wake up call for the greater situation at hand which is our dependency on fossil fuels. This hope comes at the price of so much loss. This is not okay.

Here are photos by Kris Krüg from the last seaplane journey to the coast of Alabama:


A boat involved in the cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico approaches a large patch of some extremely concentrated crude oil.


Just a few hundred yards off shore in Gulf Shores, Alabama, boats skim oil from the surface as the giant oil slick quickly approaches the tourist-filled beach.


Large patches of dark crude oil gather along the water’s edge in coastal beach near Gulf Shores, AL.


In parts of the Gulf of Mexico the crude oil collects together and appears dark red. This gives the appearance of blood which is not ironically lost on the fact that oil leak is more of a gash in the earth’s surface.


A lone boat wades through the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. A small pathway can be seen where the boat has passed, pushing the oil to either side.

Sea Plane Captain Dickie

One of the ways BP controlled the media coverage of the oil spill was booking up virtually every available seaplane hour in the Gulf coast area. Luckily, our seaplane captain Dickie was fed up with how BP was trying to control the airways. A lucky situation arose which gave this rogue pilot complete flight clearance, even to the ‘Source’. Dickie and his seaplane was a rare find for the Gulf Coast during this time.


Despite the fact that this is an underwater spill at 5,000 feet, crude oil is collecting at the water’s surface. The oil that is seen on the surface is a mere percentage of what lies beneath, at thousands and thousands of feet.

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Some boom protects the open waterways of Louisiana marshlands; out of work fishing boats attempt to skim oil from the water’s surface; the oil slick is so much bigger than we can imagine or even see.


This is one of the relief well drilling stations in the Gulf of Mexico. These relief wells have been hailed as the solution to relieve pressure from the weakened and continuously leaking Deepwater Horizon well. Unfortunately completion for this project is slated for August, months after the initial leak.


Oddly resembling a scene from the game Battleship, this is actually the Gulf of Mexico right at the source of the oil leak. Each massive ship, aiding in the relief or cleanup effort, looks tiny against the massive oily backdrop.


The best defense for the oil is literally to scoop it out of the sand and water. This large blob of oil lands upon the shores in Alabama which results in the need for the industrial size machinery.


Iridescent oil streaks the beautiful aqua blue Gulf of Mexico. Once the crude oil mixes with the dispersant and starts to travel, streaks can appear like this.

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The beautiful marshlands of Southern Louisiana are being threatened and/or systematically destroyed by the Deepwater Horizon leak. Once oil hits the shores of the marshlands and coats the marsh grasses, there is really no hope of survival for the greenery.


When the dispersant works against the crude oil leaking in the Gulf of Mexico, it essentially works the same as dishwasher detergent would work against grease. This unfortunately makes the surface water appear discolored and soapy looking.


Whitecap waves in the Gulf of Mexico at this time can be an unfortunate occurrence. These waves can carry very strong currants which can be one of the greatest downfalls of this ever-expanding oil spill.


Boats that are currently working in the Gulf of Mexico can come back into harbor, after a day of sailing through the crude oil, looking absolutely horrific.


Two boats race towards each other in one of the dark waterways of the Southern Louisiana marshlands.


A perfect day coasting in a fast boat along the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico are becoming ones of the distant past. The effects of this oil spill will be felt for years to come.


The first line of defense against the encroaching oil slick is surface protective boom that act as a barrier. Unfortunately the boom when unattended or left to the whims of weather changes can be highly ineffective.

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There are so many working parts of the cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico that it can seem disjunct yet potentially effective. Unfortunately the size of this oil spill makes is fairly difficult to see how effective any of these efforts are doing.


The darker colors within the oil designate the areas of the thickest crude oil.


An aerial flyover view of Gulf Shore, Alabama shows the lively community and culture that is being directly affected by this oil disaster.


Black garbage bags line this white sand beach in Alabama. The only question on everyone’s minds is: WHAT IS IN THE BLACK GARBAGE BAGS?


Catching the seaplane wing in this view of the Deepwater Horizon oil well really puts the grand size of the whole operation into perspective.


This picture perfect image of a jet setting boat gliding through clear water, upon closer inspection, is a cleanup boat heading out to the oil spill ‘Source’ along a seemingly untouched stretch of Gulf water.


The beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama is lined up with beach chairs in anticipation of tourists’ arrival to the sandy shores. Yet the reality is that two boats are skimming oil off the top surface of the ocean just a few hundred yards out from the shoreline.

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Breathtaking marshlands and their unprotected waterways are in danger of being infected with the fast moving oil slick. Two boats travel through the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and leave streaks through the iridescent oil settling on the surface.


The site of the oil leak creates a massive dark cloud of oil that looms darkly over the entire cleanup operation.


A large boat, carries accommodation units for workers’ working in the Gulf of Mexico, travels through murky waters.


A small look into the seaplane that flew over the Expedition Team over the Gulf of Mexico.


This ominous view is the very unsettling reality of the Gulf Coast situation. A long boat works tirelessly against the growing oil spill as small blobs of oil move quickly and steadily to the endangered marshland shores. The reality is that no one or nothing along the Gulf Coast is truly safe.

There is no two ways about this situation. There is a massive oil leak in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, it has not been stopped and communities, cultures, wildlife and natural habitats are dying. The company that is in control of this leak is controlling information, spreading misinformation and continuing to endanger workers and wildlife on a daily basis.

The saddest part of this whole situation is that the OIL IS STILL LEAKING.