Anchor Marco Werman speaks with explorer and environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, grandson of famed underwater pioneer Jacques Cousteau. Earlier this week, the younger Cousteau went for a dive in the waters affected by the oil spill off the Louisiana coast.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. Mixed news on the oil disaster in the Gulf, federal officials say BP’s so-called top kill plan to plug the gushing well seems to be working. Still, they caution that it’s too early to declare the effort a success. Meanwhile, President Obama once again vowed to hold BP accountable for the full cost of the disaster and the clean up and he made it clear that the company is not the one calling the shots in the Gulf.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort.
WERMAN: Whoever is in charge, the disaster in the Gulf looks like it will go down as one of the worst in U.S. History. This week environmentalist Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the legendary Jacques Cousteau, went to the Gulf with a team of divers for a close up look. They dove right into the spill.
PHILIPPE COUSTEAU: When we got into the water our worst fears were realized. One of the concerns has been what is happening in the Gulf with the application of these chemical dispersants into the oil and indeed, the oil was not confined to the surface, which was the original goal of applying chemical dispersants. It had permeated the water column down 15, 20 feet and would was over us in these billowing waves, clouds of this red toxic soup in which we found dead fish and we could see dead jellyfish floating through it. It was really a terrible sight. You know, often times it’s out of sight, out of mind and no one had done this before. No one had seen what this looks like and what the condition of the water would be. And while we know very little about the effects of these chemicals and the oil in the water, what we do know is that we have put 800,000 gallons of a very toxic chemical into the water column and that it’s likely these plumes of dispersed oil and this toxic soup is now distributed from the surface to the bottom and will be spread throughout the Gulf of Mexico and potentially through the Gulf Stream, down the Florida Keys and all the way into the Atlantic.
WERMAN: How toxic are those chemical dispersants, just on their own?
COUSTEAU: Quite toxic. It attacks red blood cells, it causes nervous system damage and of course the oil itself has other volatile organic compounds and benzene and other things in it that are very toxic to humans and to really any living creature. Long term exposure can cause permanent, really permanent serious damage, which is why we had to take such precautions and we have full hazmat suits when we were diving.
WERMAN: You know in 1969 there was a huge oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, although much smaller than the one in the Gulf of Mexico and that environmental disaster helped push then-President Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, there’s way more drilling in the world, spills are much more common and the whole planet is affected. So what is your advice to leaders around the globe about what to do?
COUSTEAU: I think at the end of the day what we need to realize is that while there’s no way we can get off oil tomorrow, we need to understand that this is a crisis not only because of climate change or ocean acidification which also doesn’t get enough attention, but because of these immediate crises that happen from oil, we need to get off oil. That’s the bottom line. It’s not good for us. Whether you agree or believe in climate change or not, oil has terrible consequences in the health of our environment and in the health of people and our economy. And the lives, in this case, the thousands of lives that rely on the Gulf of Mexico for their livelihood.
WERMAN: Do you think that one of the challenges, Philippe Cousteau, of off shore oil spills, and you kind of evoked this earlier, the fact that they are out of sight, out of mind for the vast majority of people on the planet. The affects of them are also out of sight, out of mind, at least in the short term.
COUSTEAU: Well, they are. I was down with scientists in Grand Isle, Louisiana two days ago who are so concerned because we don’t know how this is going to affect the biological systems in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the time of year when fish larvae are spawning and as these tiny microscopic organisms are floating through the water column, they encounter these toxic chemicals that most likely kill them relatively quickly. And there’s grave concern because it’s pervasive. It stays in the environment for a very, very long time. We saw oil going into mangroves already, making it into the wetlands, so it is in these coastal habitats, regardless of the chemical dispersant. And once it gets into all these reeds and these grasses and these mangroves, there’s no getting it out. It will be there for a very, very long time. I saw tar washing up on the beaches. I dipped my hand into it just to feel it and my hand is still yellow, days later despite all the washing and the soap that I’ve put onto it because this oil just doesn’t go away.
WERMAN: Philippe Cousteau, explorer and CEO of Earth Echo International, thank you very much.
COUSTEAU: Thank you.
WERMAN: We have a link to a video of Cousteau’s dive at the world dot org.
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