Three Years After the BP Spill, Tar Balls and Oil Sheen Blight Gulf Coast

The rest of the U.S. may have moved on, but along the coast where oil drifted to shore, residents are still waiting for some kind of closure.
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April 20 marks the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which took the lives of 11 men and resulted in the largest oil spill in American history. BP, along with Transocean and Halliburton, are still in the midst of a civil trial held in New Orleans federal court over liability for the catastrophe.

The extent of the damage and the long-term effects from the spill remain impossible to determine. Some scientific evidence -- for example, that collected by NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program, which includes the results of necropsies of dead sea turtles and dolphins -- is not available, since it is being used as evidence in the trial. Yet even three years later, the residual effects of the oil spill are still apparent on the Gulf Coast. I covered the BP oil spill from the start, and have gone on documenting the effects of the hardest-hit areas in Louisiana and Mississippi, revisiting those areas over the last week. Below are some of the photos I have taken. Along the Mississippi coast one can still find tar balls. In Louisiana I observed, among other disturbing signs of the spill, oil sheen along a coastal marsh, and erosion on an island in Barataria Bay sped up by the death of mangrove trees and marsh grass.


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Cat Island was once a rookery for pelicans and other birds. The island is now a fraction of its former size, void of the mangrove trees and healthy marsh grass that thrived there before the spill. The birds that would normally would be nesting this time of the year are also absent. (April 18/All images Julie Dermansky)

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Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, La., stands on what remains of Cat Island, holding pelican bones. (April 18)

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A bird rookery on a barrier island in Barataria Bay. The lack of mangrove trees in the area has forced the pelicans to nest in the marsh grass. Alternations of the tide put their eggs at risk here. (April 18)

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A dead Kemp's Ridley Sea turtle on the beach in Pass Christian, Miss. Necropsies of sea creatures are being presented as evidence in an ongoing case against companies implicated in the spill -- though it's not clear what killed this turtle in particular. (April 13)

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Road sign near Grand Isle, La. (April 14)

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Containers holding material removed from Elmer's Island, La., where the BP oil spill clean up is ongoing. (April 14) 

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Messages from resident in the form of handmade signs remain on Grand Isle. This one offers an optimistic message. (April 14)

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A makeshift memorial on the beach in Grand Isle for those killed in the blast that started the BP oil spill. (April 14)

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On the beaches of Louisiana's state park on Grand Isle, I found large tar balls that were tough like rubber, distributed roughly one every couple of feet. (April 14)

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In the marsh along the edge of Bay Jimmy, Plaquemines Parish Director of Coastal Zone Management P.J. Hahn found hardened oil coating the roots of now-dead marsh grass. (April 15)

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Oil sheen is visible in the Bay Jimmy marsh. (April 15)

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Environmental groups at a rally and press conference in  front of the Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans, where the BP oil spill trial is in session. (April 16)

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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