Listener Offers Insight From The Gulf

We have been asking listeners in the Gulf Coast region to tell us how the oil spill has affected their lives. We hear from NPR listener Glen Schwartzberg of Baton Rouge, La. He offers a first-hand take on what it's like to be in the Gulf right now, as the effects of the oil grow deeper every day.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We're going to stay on the Gulf oil spill story now. All this week we've asked you to tell us how you've been affected by the oil spill. We've heard from a number of you.

Dr. Glen Schwartzberg of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, left his thoughts on our comment line. Now, he lives in Baton Rouge, but he has a home in Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, and he says when he jumps in his boat and looks out on the shoreline, all he can see is oil. Let's listen.

Dr. GLEN SCHWARTZBERG: I would like to tell you guys that there needs to be the explanation to the country that this isn't just about the loss of fish or wildlife, it is about this destruction of a wetlands that has taken thousands of years to develop. And because of man's intrusion, that it will be lost forever.

MARTIN: We wanted to know more, so we called him and he's with us now on the line. Dr. Schwartzberg, thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Hello, how are you?

MARTIN: Could you just tell us a little bit more about when you get up close to the waterline, what do you see?

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: You see red globs of this just gelatinous, horrible-looking thing floating in the water as you go out to Barataria Bay. And there are platforms out there because there's oil production and gas production in Barataria Bay. But all that's safe. But you see pelicans that are oil covered. You see the seagulls, you see the marsh grass that's stained with the oil. And it's just, I mean, it's gut-wrenching.

MARTIN: Does it smell?

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Yeah. The good part is that with the tidal movement, it'll come in, then it's taken out again, you know. So it's kind of a back to and fro thing. The to and fro of the Mississippi River, before the levees were put up, allowed the replenishment of the marshland because the river would flood in the spring and, you know, it would bring salt, freshwater, the silt, et cetera, to rebuild the marsh. That's what kept the saltwater out.

But with the cuttings of these canals by the oil companies and the laying of pipelines, it's allowed the saltwater to come in, which has killed the marsh grass. And so therefore you get this erosion and you don't get the replenishment because the river's levied so it won't flood.

MARTIN: I see.

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: And so, over time, that has allowed the marsh to disintegrate. And so long as it stays in the water, then hopefully nature will persevere and break it down. But once it gets onto the marsh grass and the soil, then it'll never go away.

MARTIN: Now, these oil platforms, you've been seeing them for awhile. They've been a part of your landscape for quite some time. And when you looked at those before, did you ever envision something like this? I just wondered if that had ever occurred to you.

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Absolutely not, because there was the trust of the people and the trust of the environment, I guess, that there would be a symbiotic relationship because obviously everybody wins if that happens. But for a long time, Louisiana has really been mistreated by not only the federal government, but the oil companies because the whole impact of the development of the oil industry and the laying of the pipelines and the dredging of the canals and the cutting of the canals has allowed saltwater intrusion, and that's one of the major reasons that we have lost marshland. And there's been no reparations to Louisiana for that.

MARTIN: When you look at this and as you're talking to me, what would you like the rest of the country to know about what you're seeing. I'd like you to be that bridge for us. Be our eyes and what do you want us to know and think about as we think about this?

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Well, think about the fact that when you turn on your heater in Philadelphia, there's a very good chance that that fuel oil is coming from Louisiana. When you eat the shrimp in New York, that shrimp is probably coming from the Gulf, from Louisiana. When you listen to the Cajun music, when you listen to the spirituals or jazz, that's all coming from Louisiana, from the roots of that.

And this is a civilization. This is a culture that's going to die because without the marshland there, without the ability for the people that have lived there for hundreds of years and developed a way of life, to foster this culture and to provide these products for the United States, it's going to go away and it'll never be rebuilt. I don't care what the Corps of Engineers says, what has taken nature thousands of years to develop cannot be rebuilt by man in 10 years.

MARTIN: Now, Dr. Schwartzberg, you are a surgeon, so you are actually familiar with life and death. And when you say it's going to die, you really mean that? You think it's gone?

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Absolutely.

MARTIN: It's gone.

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: It is a very emotional, passion issue for me because of the fact that once you go out there and you see the beauty of it. And you see now the wonton destruction of it because of greed, because of incompetence, it's just there's no one that can go out there and not get emotional about that.

MARTIN: NPR listener Glen Schwartzberg is a vascular surgeon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His house in Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, is close to some of the worst damage from the Gulf oil spill.

Thank you so much for calling us.

Dr. SCHWARTZBERG: Thank you. Have a good day.

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