THE NATURE COAST, Florida – A group of fishermen living along Florida’s “Nature Coast” – tucked along the state’s western shore from the Panhandle to Pine Island – have agreed to meet with Bellona’s Karl Kristensen and me and they’re feeling a bit edgy.
We’ve driven out to a house out along the Gulf of Mexico through the early sunset of a late February night.
All of them have switched off their cellphones. A woman paces back and forth to the edge of the yard to monitor passing cars and gauge if our voices might carry over the still sea waters where prying ears could be listening from darkened boats.
The people at the house are trying to puzzle together the four most devastating events following BP’s Macondo well blowout on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 and fouled Gulf waters with 4.9 million barrels of crude: declining and deformed seafood harvests, chronic illnesses they’ve developed, what’s happening to the environment that provides their livelihood, and why their concerns are met with foreboding hostility and ominous threats.
Unlike other interviews I’ve had with Deepwater Horizon victims in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – who all talked to me in public lunch shacks or on their docks – this discussion opens with one of the fishermen telling me: “We could get killed for what we are telling you.”
The fishing community in which they live is small and insular, they explain, and solely dependent on the sea for its survival. Talking about how it was impacted by the BP oil spill is violently discouraged.
One of the group says the message to many in these small fishing villages is clear: “If you’ve got something to say about oil or [the toxic oil dispersant] Corexit affecting these waters, keep your mouth shut.”
He recounts the retribution he’s seen, and that might await anyone sitting in the dim ring of the porch’s light.
“You get your [car’s] gas tank sugared, houses burn, people get followed by unmarked vans and trucks, people disappear,” he says. “There’s the little stuff that just messes with people’s livelihoods, can’t get to work, can’t fix your boat, and then there’s the big shut up – the threat is very real, and people’s lives are in danger.”
Shanna Devine is with the Government Accountability Project (GAP), America’s premier whistleblower protection group. She has catalogued the health and welfare of the post BP Gulf community, and told me these anonymous accounts square with dozens she’s documented.
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