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Following the Gulf Coast Oil

Tar balls and oil slicks are washing ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Florida

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Wayne Pacelle holds a globule of oil found on Orange Beach, Ala., where a large oil slick had begun its assault. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Globules of oil litter Orange Beach, Alabama. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Laura Bevan

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The oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has made its way to four of the five Gulf coast states.

Louisiana already experienced the thick black goo on its marshes and beaches; now tar balls and oil-slick waves are washing ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Florida.

Unlike the hurricanes that penetrate these areas—tempests of massive waves and sound and fury winds—the oil is slowly and insidiously creeping toward the shore, staining the beach waters the color of southern iced tea.

Yesterday, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, joined the HSUS assessment team in Louisiana to witness the situation firsthand and determine what the organization could offer to the oil spill response effort. The team traveled to Alabama where a large oil slick had begun its assault on Orange Beach and Dauphin Island. The famous white sand beaches were slowly turning shades of black and brown as globs of oil and smaller tar balls came in with the tide. Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter accompanied Wayne and the team on a visit to Grand Isle, the only human-inhabited barrier island in the state.

While the rest of the team was in Alabama, I toured the Mississippi beach south of Pascagoula where I found small tar balls and brown water lapping at the shoreline. In an area surrounded by yellow booms, hermit crabs clung to a single pipe.

Across the street were empty lots where homes had stood five years ago, before Hurricane Katrina sent a 20-foot wall of water crashing into and destroying the buildings. The town was struggling still to recover from that disaster, only to see a new threat heading its way.

I visited the Pascagoula beach with a local wildlife rehabilitator, Robin Bush. Robin is a native of the Mississippi coast and a Hurricane Katrina survivor. She choked up as she recounted the struggles her beloved community has experienced since Katrina.

Recovery has been slow for both humans and animals alike, but species like pelicans were making a noticeable comeback. The wildlife center Robin volunteers for was destroyed by Katrina, but rebuilding has begun. Now, in an economy almost completely dependent on the Gulf of Mexico for its tourism and fishing industries, she is not sure if it can withstand the onslaught of oil that could last for years.

Laura Bevan is director of the eastern regional office for The HSUS. She has been with the organization since 1987 and is known for her extensive experience in working natural disasters, starting with Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She has responded and helped direct animal relief efforts in numerous hurricanes, wildfires and floods.

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