The "Spill" on the Spill by Jereme Phillips, Refuge Manager, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Jereme calls Unified Command in May 2010 to notify them of heavy weathered oil washing ashore at Bon Secour. Photo: Jennifer Strickland, USFWS.
Jereme being interviewed by the press. Photo: Bonnie Strawser, USFWS.
Standing along the beach in front of huge sand barriers designed to keep oil off the beach. Photo: Tom MacKenzie, USFWS.
Watch "Oil Washes Ashore at Bon Secour" featuring Jereme. Video is also available on our YouTube channel.
On the Alabama coast, before there were traffic lights, Mardi Gras parades, even before there were towns, there was wildlife—and there were fisherman. For thousands of years, humans and wildlife have depended on the sea for their survival. This relationship is clear, we all know this, but today this vital connection is more real to me than ever.
Soon after the oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico, our staff at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge decided that we would not give up any ground. With the help of many, many others, our staff has constructed berms to protect estuaries and dunes, directed the deployment of boom, and worked 14-hour days to rescue stranded sea turtles. Early on in this crisis, we made a commitment to aggressively attack the threat of oil and work to protect the refuge as much as we possibly could. While wildlife is our mission, we also know that this disaster has a significant impact on our neighbors.
I was invited to attend a community meeting that was held just a few days into the crisis. Sitting beside me at the table were fishermen for whom this way of life is as generational as it is vocational. The anxiety in the room was higher that day than at any other time I have experienced in my 11 years on the Gulf coast—higher than during Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, or the onset of the economic recession. When it was my turn to speak, I was not sure what I was going to say. I let everyone know that while it is my job to protect the land and the wildlife, I am a member of this community, too. My kids go to school here and my friends own small businesses here. My daughter caught her first fish, an Atlantic croaker the size of a small burrito, on Bon Secour Bay. My son landed his first redfish on a Spiderman Zebco rod in these waters. I have a personal interest in the health of our coastal ecosystems and the viability of our local economy.
There are now high-rises and surf shops along the Alabama coast, but in some important ways, things have not changed much. Wild animals and people still need clean water and healthy ecosystems to survive. As a refuge manager who has the privilege of temporary stewardship of this land, I hope the ancient lifeline between the coast and its people remains strong. Every day, we will do our best.