Clearfield Woman Talks About Trip to Gulf Coast

Oil Spill worker cleaning-up along the Gulf coast. (Photo provided by Nature Abounds)

CLEARFIELD – Melinda Hughes-Wert, a Clearfield resident and President of Nature Abounds, a national non-profit based in Clearfield, was curious on what was really happening on the Gulf Coast in relation to the Deep Horizon Oil Spill and Hurricane Katrina recovery. On Sept. 21, she boarded a place to the Gulf Coast to spend the week on the ground and get the real scoop.

Upon arriving in the Gulf, Melinda first assessed the damage and clean-up taking place along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama. According to Melinda, “There were crews of workers on the beaches along the coast cities of Biloxi and Gulfport, MS during the evenings, picking up oil debris. During the day hours, some crew members were cleaning rocks along the jetties, one rock at a time.”

On Dauphin Island, a barrier island as well as resort town off of Alabama, the first object Hughes-Wert came upon was a hardware sign reading ‘Oil Spill Clean-up Supplies Available Here’. Locals she spoke with said they didn’t have the usual vacationers and although business wasn’t what they had hoped for, oil spill workers kept them in business.

On Sept. 24, Hughes-Wert traveled to the Louisiana areas that had suffered the most damage and spent her next few days on Grand Isle, a barrier island as well as family resort, and Venice, both locations being about two and a half hours south of New Orleans. On Grand Isle, residents are not happy with how the government and BP have handled the disaster, and signs can be seen around the island. For example, “Goo Lagoon” can be seen on a few signs, while another reads that “Pappy’s dream is gone of having his grandchildren at his beach house this summer”, while others read “Save Our Golf”.  Most of the beaches are closed to the public, but Melinda was able to observe some work being done. There are still tarballs washing up on shore and not nearly enough workers to keep up with what’s coming in.

Sign placed by Gulf residents, showing their feelings on the Oil Spill. (Photo provided by Nature Abounds.)

While Hughes-Wert was in Louisiana, two massive fish kills were discovered in the Venice area. According to officials, they’ve never seen anything like this on this scale before, and while they don’t have scientific evidence as of yet, they believe that the fish died due to a lack of oxygen in the water, caused in part by the oil spill which happened only 80 miles from their shoreline.

In talking with locals, five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated this area, Hughes-Wert said that they were starting to see some hope, a light at the end of the nightmare, and then this came along. She said, “Folks can clean-up and rebuild from hurricane damage, but even just after the storm, you usually still have good air and water quality, and you can eventually go back to a semi-normal life. Well this oil spill disaster has taken that hope away…the water is filled with oil and in some areas you can smell it in the air.”

She continued, “It’ll be years before this eco-system recovers, when people can return to their traditional livelihoods whether it is in the tourism or seafood industries, or even just being a resident in the area. It’ll be months or years before people can vacation at their beloved beaches or watch the wildlife that make their homes or breeding grounds here. Of course, a lot of folks are afraid that once BP and the government pull out, they’ll be left with a mess and forgotten about….it’s happened before/ It’s really sad to see the time and resources that have been necessary for this process, when all of would have been avoided if regulations were enforced and companies making responsible decisions.” 

This was not her first trip to the Gulf. Before moving back to Clearfield in 2008, Hughes-Wert managed a year-long project called the Coastal Louisiana Restoration Initiative where volunteers from all over the globe traveled to Louisiana to help restore wetlands, plant native trees and remove invasive weeds. She also spent time there six-months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. 

Hughes-Wert was able to take photos and videos of the clean-up, and the video can be seen on Nature Abounds website at . For more information about how you can support the Gulf recovery or supporting projects in our own backyard, contact Nature Abounds by phone at (814)765-1453, by email at , or stop at the Nature Abounds office at 415 W. Front Street in Clearfield.

Nature Abounds is a national 501c3 non-profit organization based in Clearfield, educating and inspiring citizens to sustain their community through environmental stewardship.

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