Oil in the Wetlands
Earlier this month, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols embarked on a self-funded expedition to survey the BP catastrophe in the Gulf, from ground zero to the islands and wetlands (pictured) destroyed by oil.
Oil in the Wetlands
Unlike many journalists, Nichols says he didn't encounter resistance from BP, the Coast Guard, or local police. "We flew right out to the rig, got on a boat, got onto an uncleaned island, and surveyed damage there," he says.
A Closeup of Oiled Rocks
Nichols was startled at the scale and intensity of the spill, despite being inundated with images from the media over the past few months. "We've unknowingly initiated the world's biggest ocean experiment. The Gulf of Mexico is now like a petri dish," he explains. "We dumped a lot of oil into the dish, it's getting shaken up by storms, and as marine scientists we're obligated to watch, figure out what happens, and help."
Oil in the Ocean
"I was flying at a thousand feet in a little Cessna and in every direction as far as I could see, there was oil on the water," Nichols says.
Boats Burn off Spilled Oil
One of the most controversial cleanup tactics in the Gulf oil disaster is oil burn-off--the practice of rigs burning off spilled oil. Nichols has been working with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project to restrict burn-offs, which are believed to inadvertently burn up sea turtles in "burn boxes" along with oil.
Matter of Trust
A public charity called Matter of Trust has been hard at work collecting hair, stuffing it into nylons, and deploying the resulting booms (floating oil barriers) into the ocean. During his time in the Gulf, Nichols was "invigorated" by the sheer mass of people working to clean up the disaster.
Oiled Marshlands
Brown waves of oil washed up to the marshlands that Nichols visited. "Any bird that sits down in the water gets oil on it," he says.
A Lone Oiled Bottle
On Louisiana beaches, not even a lone plastic bottle can escape the wrath of encroaching oil. "There's no way to rationalize it. There's no escape," Nichols says.

The Gulf Oil Disaster, As Seen Through the Eyes of a Marine Biologist

The Gulf oil leak may be plugged for now, but extensive damage has already been done. Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols explores the ramifications of the BP oil disaster.

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