Conservation Stories: Patagonia Tells Stories From the Gulf


The work at Conservation Alliance wouldn't be possible without all of our outdoor industry brand members. But a lot of them aren't only involved with Conservation Alliance; many of our member brands are committed to a diverse variety of environmental causes. Every Thursday we'll be featuring a cross-post from one of our member companies to highlight the causes that they're active in. Today we're highlighting member company Patagonia, who late this summer committed to sending employees down to the Gulf Coast to help with oil spill relief efforts. Employees have been telling their stories on Patagonia's blog The Cleanest Line, and this is an excerpt from the final post in the series


Where Oil and Seafood Mix

– Dulac, Louisiana

It was the height of hurricane season in southern Louisiana when we landed in mid-August, the five-year anniversary of Katrina a couple weeks away. Headed for Dulac – a low-lying bayou town about an hour and a half southwest of New Orleans – we were told we’d be evacuated if the weather acted up.

Our job was to go door-to-door surveying Dulac’s 2,500 or so residents about the health, financial and cultural impacts of the BP oil spill. The nearest oil had reportedly made its way into a marsh a dozen or so miles away.

Oil and commercial shrimping are the area’s biggest employers and have coexisted peaceably for many years. This was reinforced by a billboard we passed on our way down from New Orleans advertising the 75th annual Shrimp & Petroleum Festival over in Morgan City. Sweet Gulf oil and sweet Gulf shrimp. In southern Louisiana, people depend on both. Moratoriums on either meet with equal enthusiasm.

We stayed at the Dulac Community Center, a Methodist-run facility with a bunkhouse and kitchen. Working in teams of two, sometimes three, we hit neighborhoods from 9:30-noon and again from 3-5, knocking on the doors of homes along Shrimpers Row, Avet Street, Coonies Court and others. Dulac is hot and humid in mid-August. Trash litters the streets and waterways. The metallic colors of boat and construction yards, pipelines and processing plants contrast with the vibrant green and blue of the bayou. Un-spayed and un-neutered dogs and cats are legion in Dulac. They lie listlessly in the heat or bark (the dogs, anyway) at strangers from yards and balconies. One aggressive stray delivered a skin-breaking bite to the leg of a member of our group. He had to drive 30 minutes to Houma for medical attention.

Many homes in Dulac and neighboring communities sit high on stilts to keep them safe from hurricane flood waters. People used federal “Road Home” money to have their houses and trailers raised. Other buildings less fortunate lay abandoned or in ruin. A flotilla of broken boats litter the banks of Grand Caillou Canal.

During our three-and-a-half-day canvas, my teammate and I spoke with 30 or so people: a beautician, oil-field worker, boat fueler, deckhand, retired social worker, retired teacher, disabled shrimper, bookkeeper, truck driver, and unemployed among them. One day, three of eight we interviewed shared the surname Billiot. We met a lot of Boudreauxs and Verdins, too.

Few people we spoke with reported having smelled oil or dispersant, or said they’d suffered health problems they would attribute to the spill. But it was hard to know. Much of Dulac is an industrial zone, stained with oil and scented with exhaust.

The economic effects of the oil spill were clearer. Everyone was acquainted with or related to a commercial shrimper who’d been forced to sit out the May season because their fishing grounds had been closed. Many idled fishermen received BP relief money, but some said the checks were sporadic or had quit coming. Some had signed up with “Vessels of Opportunity,” a BP program that paid them to put out boom and skim for oil rather than spread their butterfly nets and fish for shrimp.

Read the full post here.