By **Roshini Thinakaran**
Photos by Rocky Kistner, NRDC
“When you get that water in your blood…it’s over,” was JJ Creppel’s response to me when I asked if he has ever thought of leaving Buras, Louisiana.
JJ is a member of the United Houma Tribe born and raised in Buras. What Hurricane Katrina didn’t destroy five years ago, fifty-five year old-JJ is losing in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil disaster.
We met three days into the scout trip I took in October. JJ was shrimping in a bayou off Hwy 23, the road connecting lower Plaquemines to the suburbs of New Orleans. Rocky Kistner, a reporter with NRDC, introduced us. Rocky believed the meeting would help me understand the full scope of what was happening to Gulf communities because of the BP oil disaster.
“It would have been more a year ago,” JJ said as he pulled in the net. He has been fishing since he was five and learned how to make his own nets at fifteen. The morning we met, all he caught were four shrimp and a few pogies, enough to survive on but not much to sell.
Fishermen like JJ have a deep understanding of these waters; it’s not based on a science but rather on decades of experience and knowledge handed down by their fathers and grandfathers. Without a doubt, it was a way of life.
A short drive away from where he was shrimping, JJ and his wife lived in a trailer they were renting for one hundred dollars a month. He said before the oil disaster, they were doing ok, managing to pay bills and make it; JJ even owned his own boat. As a result of mounting debt because there was no work, JJ had to eventually sell the boat.
Rocky and JJ met at the Dollar Store in Buras. The two men had an immediate connection since Rocky has been following JJ’s story, one that is all too familiar to thousands of families in the Louisiana bayou. Rocky’s blogs posted on Huffington Post soon garnered JJ national attention. He was asked to attend a congressional hearing in Washington, DC about the impact of the BP oil disaster.
Rocky also linked JJ up with a food charity in Plaquemines Parish, but the charity only lasted for so long down here in the bayou. It’s a culture based on providing for yourself by taking from what nature has provided. He took it upon himself to help JJ buy a used boat, and for the first time since the oil disaster, JJ found hope. The BP oil disaster of 2010 is far from being over; it’s a disaster that has impacted countless lives, so let’s stop calling it a spill. We spill milk. When millions of barrels of oil pour into one of the world’s most unique ecosystems and pulls apart thousands of lives, it’s called a disaster.
Copyright 2010 Roshini Thinakaran
Roshini Thinakaran is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, TED Global Fellow, and founder of Women at the Forefront. She is a documentarian recognized for her work examining the effects of war on women. Roshini’ss latest project focuses on a small town deep in the Louisiana bayou facing extinction. Zak Wenning, a video producer for National Geographic Society is filming with her. Zak has over ten years of experience in production and working with various cultural groups. Kellianne Jones is a fourth-year film student at Syracuse University. For more on Roshini’s work please visit her website.