(CNN) - Twelve months into this oil disaster there seem to be more questions than answers when it comes to the vast ecosystem that is the Gulf of Mexico.
Nature is resilient and can recover from most catastrophic events given enough time. Most scientists believe the Gulf will eventually recover, but when and at what costs?
Since January 1, more than 220 sea turtles and 175 dolphins have washed up dead on gulf shore beaches. Test results confirming a direct link to the BP oil spill won't be available for months. This is partly because good science takes time, but mostly because this information, along with a slew of other evidence, is being gathered to build a case for litigation against BP. Dirty water, damaged habitat, and dead animals all are being quantified to bring dollars back to restore the gulf.
Of all the solutions to the countless problems one seems to get the most attention: The Mississippi. Man-made levees and canals have changed the way the river feeds the gulf and its wetlands. Allow the river to "spread the ecological wealth" a bit by opening up the outflow and/or periodically releasing water/nutrients further upriver so the Mississippi Delta can replenish the wetlands that have been disappearing at astonishing rates for decades. Just a thought among many good ideas that may now be possible given the attention and dollars that will be produced from an eventual legal settlement.
Reporting on this disaster during the past year has brought me closer to these incredible creatures than I'd ever imagined. It's heart breaking to see the fatalities increasing at such alarming rates. Turtle and dolphin deaths this year are 10 to 15 times higher than normal. The Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Gulfport, Mississippi has been busy testing these animals while also rehabilitating rescued ones during this event.
On this anniversary date we felt it proper to spend the day at their facility. While here, I got to meet a couple of their resident "retired" dolphins, just two more amazing critters I've gotten to know on this assignment.
Related video: Wildlife recovering from oil spill?
Randi Kaye | BIO
Editor's Note: For information on how you can help these homeless pets click here.
I just got back from a couple of hours at the Louisiana SPCA here in New Orleans. For me, as an animal lover and the proud owner of a cat, this shoot was very tough.
We went because we wanted to see how the oil spill in the gulf is affecting the family pet. It’s not just pelicans and turtles and dolphins that are feeling this. While the family pet may not be covered in oil, too many of them are now homeless because their owners, mainly fisherman, can no longer afford to take care of them. They are out of work and behind on bills, so now as many as 80 dogs a month are ending up in shelters, given away by their owners.
At one shelter in St. Bernard Parish, they saw an increase of more than 100 dogs this past June compared to June last year. In June of 2009, they had 17 dogs turned in by owners. This year, 127. They say it’s all because of the spill.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from these cages. There were all kinds of dogs: terriers, golden retrievers, and every kind of mixed breed you can image. One cuter than the next. More dogs have been turned in than cats but there are plenty of cats that now need homes too.
The SPCA’s Ana Zorrilla told me when some families come in to turn in their pets they can hardly bring themselves to say it’s because of the spill. She says they are just too torn up. She says she’d like BP to help foot some of the bills and help keep the family pet at home instead of at the shelters. She would like BP to pay for petfood and veterinary expenses so families can stay intact. With donations, the Lousiana SPCA just launched a program this week to try and keep pets at home by providing food, vet care, spaying and neutering, even microchipping. But they don’t have the funds for all the families who need it.
The saddest part about this is that so many of these now homeless pets may never find another home. The shelter we visited is not a no-kill shelter and almost every cage was taken. The dogs we saw today only have about 2 or 3 weeks, if they’re lucky, to get adopted. If they don’t get a second chance, these pets will likely be euthanized. And they never even had a drop of oil on them….
I was able to get home to Chicago for a great Father's Day weekend, while many of my colleagues stayed in the Gulf to continue our coverage of the oil disaster. There is nothing better than sitting in bed, sipping coffee and listening to my three kids giggle with excitement as they run around the house gathering all the gifts they spent the week making for me. I cherish every single moment like that. As we were having a barbecue, many of our friends in the neighborhood came by and started to ask me about the Gulf and expressed how frustrated they were. Some were downright angry. I went back inside after a great day and a half, bathed the kids and packed my bag for another week in the Gulf.
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It's amazing to think that we're heading into our 5th week in the area to cover this oil spill tragedy. Each week, we've met or have seen something that will stay with us forever. The first week we were down here, the oil had just started to wash ashore in Grand Isle. There were signs posted all over the region expressing anger and frustration with B.P.; people were trying to determine how this was going to affect their lives.
The one sight that will remain burned in my memory was the first time Anderson and I went into the marsh. My heart sank as I realized we were literally floating in a giant pool of oil. There were no sounds, no birds, no wildlife, just brown sludge and that horrible toxic smell.
Randi Kaye | BIO
Program Note: Watch Randi Kaye's full report tonight on AC360° at 10 pm ET.
Randi Kaye is in a coastal dune lake east of Destin, Florida where they are bracing for oil to come ashore and taking matters into their own hands. The county and tourism boards- not BP- are busy building sand berms to try to keep oil out of their lakes. See Randi's full report tonight at 10pm ET.
CNN Special Investigations Unit
ON NORTHSHORE BAY, Louisiana—It’s difficult to imagine the scale and depth of the back breaking work that lies ahead for Louisiana and the other Gulf states until you spend some time on the water with people whose job it is to protect the environment.
Along with CNN Photojournalist Orlando Ruiz, I took a five hour trip to look at only a few of the hundreds of marsh islands that dot the Mississippi Delta country at the very tip of Louisiana. Taking us on the tour was the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, custodians of the estimated 15,000 miles of coastline that make the state unique.
I took the trip in preparation for a planned CNN Special Investigations Unit report that later this week on AC 360° that will examine the Minerals Management Service. The MMS is an agency within the Department of Interior that has proven to be a key player in the oil spill crisis, even though with all the coverage given the spill, few Americans know of the agency and fewer still know what it does.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/07/fitz1_web.jpg caption="Oil soaked boom on island at entrance to Gulf of Mexico"]
The MMS, as one oil industry expert told me, is the nation’s landlord of all of the oil and gas tenants in the Gulf. The latest count is that there are something like 4,000 or so oil or gas platforms and the MMS deals with all of them.
Like a landlord, the MMS takes in rent—the royalties that companies like British Petroleum pay to the U.S. treasury for the privilege of operating either close in or deep water drilling platforms. And the MMS also has a statutory duty to inspect those rigs, take careful note of the safety and overall conditions of the rigs and, if necessary, deny permits to drill or continue drilling.
But if the MMS fails in its job, or as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in late May, it has a “cozy” relationship with the oil companies that it’s supposed to regulate, then you can see the real world impact on the islands we saw near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Oil began arriving at NorthShore Bay in Louisiana two weeks ago, according to the Wildlife and Fisheries Department. On our tour, you could see miles and miles of booms laid around the marsh islands. But under a blazing sun, it was also clear that most of the booms had become fully saturated. Oil was not only seeping into the roso-cane reeds that dominate the islands but it had also broken through the containment booms. The roso-cane reeds closest to the edge of the water had already been destroyed. Small wisps of green leaf on the very top of the reeds were the only visible sign of life.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/07/fitz2_web.jpg caption="Destroyed marsh reeds near Gulf of Mexico"]
Sgt. Ray Champagne of the Wildlife and Fisheries began telling his headquarters that the booms had become saturated and that new ones needed to be brought out to the islands. He gave the exact coordinates but soon gave up and told his superiors that every boom he saw needed to be replaced.
Sgt. Champagne also had one other piece of unhappy news. As we rode along the Mississippi River, he pointed out that the water level was unusually high. By the end of the month, he added, the water is bound to decrease, making oil contamination that much more certain.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta | BIO
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
Program Note: See Dr. Sanjay Gupta's full report tonight on AC 360° tonight at 10 pm ET
Like many people living in south Louisiana, Acy Cooper is a third generation shrimper. When I shook his hand, you could feel the calluses from years spent out on the boat, and his 49-year-old face was weathered, just as you might expect in a man who spends most of his waking hours in the middle of the ocean. Shrimping is the only life he has ever known. He even made a crack about the movie character in “Forest Gump,” who rattles off all the different ways to prepare shrimp – “shrimp is the fruit of the sea, you can barbeque it, boil it, broil it, bake it, …”
Our conversation quickly turned serious, though. After spending days deliberating, Acy finally decided to speak out. Up until now, no fisherman working for BP has sat down for an interview with CNN. Acy says he wants to tell people about what is happening 50 miles out at sea, where oil has turned the water black. He wants to tell the stories of his workers, several hundred of them, who were fisherman, but now, temporarily work for BP. He wanted me to know that people are getting sick, and very little is being done to protect them.
After a weekend at home, I packed my bag and headed back to New Orleans with Anderson to report about the oil spill. When I got to the airport yesterday the TSA agent checking my ID and ticket shook his head as he noticed where I was headed. "Those BP guys have no idea what they're doing down there do they?"
I walked toward the gate and grabbed a cup of coffee to keep me awake through my delay. People standing in line at the coffee stand were talking about how this was going to change what we know about the entire Gulf of Mexico.
I boarded my flight and the guy next to me wouldn't stop talking about it the entire trip. He was furious and had 10 ideas on how to get the gushing oil to stop. People behind us started to chime in as well.
When I got to the hotel the person checking me in also brought it up. She said she tried not to think about it all weekend so she could enjoy her family and relax, but said it's all anyone wanted to talk about since BP announced that their "top kill" efforts had failed.
Everyone knows this is a disaster and can't believe it's been so long and it has yet to be stopped. I was personally blown away last week when Anderson and I went to get a closer look at the oil in the marshes. There was oil everywhere. We were literally floating in a pile of brown sludge and I know there is so much more to come.
Anderson, Gary Tuchman, producer Joneil Adriano and I along with so many more CNNers will be here reporting all week on the newest efforts to stop the leak and the efforts to clean up the oil.
Gary Tuchman | BIO
Editor's Note: Watch Gary Tuchman's full report tonight on AC360° at 10pm eastern
Today, Gary Tuchman visited wetlands affected by the BP oil spill.
Accompanied by the Coast Guard, he set off on an airboat from Cocadrie, La., a small town about two hours southwest of New Orleans.
He saw workers deploying new booms around the marsh.
Others were cleaning up previously deployed booms, even individual blades of grass, with a special cleaning rag. It's painstaking work - not to mention dangerous.
The workers - mostly local contractors hired by BP - must wear protective gloves and suits in this hot, humid weather.
Dan Simon | BIO
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/06/large_cordova,.ak.3.copy.jpg caption="Simon: we headed north to Cordova, Alaska, a small fishing community most affected by the the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster" width=300 height=169]
With the oil leak in the Gulf, we wanted to see what things are like two decades after the worst spill in U.S. history. So we headed north to Cordova, Alaska, a small fishing community most affected by the the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
It’s clear the community is still living with the aftermath. Residents tell us the financial and emotional stress brought on by the spill resulted in divorces, suicides and alcoholism. We spent some time with a guy named John Platt. He’s a third generation commercial fishermen and says the last 21 years have been a nightmare. He and other fishermen here relied on the area’s booming herring fisheries. But a few years after the spill, the herring disappeared and haven’t returned since. Incomes plummeted. Platt says the misery nearly cost him his marriage. Last year, he got his final payout from Exxon-- about a half million dollars. That sounds like a lot of money, except most of it went to paying off liens for his fishing permits and boats.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/05/06/large_cordova,.ak.1.copy.jpg caption="Fisherman John Platts says the last 21 years have been a nightmare." width=300 height=169]
Cordova has a science center basically dedicated to the spill. When you walk in, visitors are greeted by several jars of oil. It’s residue from the spill. I was surprised to learn it can still be easily found. We got the sense that residents were grateful for the new round of publicity. They don’t want to be forgotten. As fisherman John Plott told me, “I think the general perception is that we were compensated a long time ago– that everything is rosy… that's not the case.” Indeed it isn’t.
See Dan's photo gallery here...