Fund raising the way to help with oil spill

by Mary Tutwiler

The Independent's Web site has been inundated with e-mails from people all over the country asking for information about volunteering to help clean up the Gulf oil spill. The Independent's Web site has been inundated with e-mails from people all over the country asking for information about volunteering to help clean up the Gulf oil spill. Most folks, responding to the horrific photos of oiled pelicans and sea turtles, want to come to Louisiana and clean wildlife. They have been asking about transportation, lodging and food.

There are strong memories of the outpouring of aid after Hurricane Katrina, when groups rode down to New Orleans by the bus load, bunked in churches and gyms, and spent vacations gutting houses. The instinct is the same, but the oil spill is not the same kind of disaster.

Most of the devastation is taking place far offshore or in marshes accessible only by boat. The marshes are fragile in the best of times. The only communities geared for housing quantities of people are Grand Isle and New Orleans. To drive down to Venice, one of the command centers for the spill, is a two-hour ride.

For the moment, this is a hazmat situation. The oil is toxic, the dispersant is toxic, and over 70 workers have been sickened from the fumes. Anyone who volunteers to clean oil must apply to BP, wait for a call, then attend a hazmat class before she can go to work. In Louisiana, there are not many beaches to clean, the majority of the workers are on boats, skimming oil as it comes to shore. So for folks who don't have a boat or hazmat experience, there isn't much to do.

Cleaning wildlife takes special training as well. A number of groups are looking for veterinary and pre-veterinary students over 18 years old to work with oiled wildlife.

Once the well is capped and the bulk of the oil removed from the waters of the Gulf, there will be other work, such as replanting marsh grass to help restore wetlands. But that may not happen for another year.

In the mean time, the best way to help is to raise money to aid the out-of-work fishing families. Not only is Louisiana's coastline at risk, so is her culture. The people who work in the seafood industry - from oystermen, shrimpers, fishermen, boat captains and deckhands, oyster shuckers, shrimp dock workers, processing plant owners, seafood distributors to coastal restaurant employees - are part of the state's heritage. Their languages, music and cooking are Louisiana's cultural flagship, break the chain by forcing them to leave the land and the culture goes with them. It's vital that the coastal communities remain in place.

What volunteers can do now is help raise money to sustain Louisiana's fisherfolk until they can go back to work.

A Gulf Aid concert in New Orleans three weeks ago raised $300,000 for the fishing families of St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes. In Acadiana, singer-songwriter Zachary Richard has teamed up with organizer Todd Mouton and Valerie Gounsoulin, who has spent the past several years in the marsh learning kayak fishing and gaining an intimate knowledge of Louisiana's bays and estuaries, to form Gulf Aid Acadiana. GAA focus on Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, and anywhere the oil comes to the western part of the state.

Gulf Aid Acadiana will be working on concerts and other fundraisers. The money will go into an account at the Community Foundation of Acadiana and then to the fishing families. To participate, go to the Gulf Aid Acadiana Web site, or their Facebook page.