How the BP Oil Spill Is Affecting New Orleans Schools

How the BP Oil Spill Is Affecting New Orleans Schools

by Karen Brown

karen brown - How the BP Oil Spill Is Affecting New Orleans Schools

When BP's Deep Water Horizon well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, it was difficult to imagine the scope of its impact on the delicate coastlines of Louisiana and adjacent states.

Today, the former platform site continues to spill about 5,000 barrels a day – or 210,000 gallons – into the Gulf, with no containment strategy yet in sight. 

"It is hard to internalize this reality and many of us are numb at the moment," says Jane Wholey, a founder of Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, a group of students and supportive adults that formed to reimagine educational opportunities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As Wholey and a team of young Rethinkers were returning this past weekend from Washington, D.C. – where they picked up a commendation in a national school design contest – the spill grew ominously larger and lurched closer to their local coastline.

Last night as I watched the news, switching channels from cable to network, from Rachel Maddow to Fox News, from the Weather Channel to local affiliate coverage, I was struck again and again by the emphasis placed on the fate of the Gulf ecosystem and its attendant fishing businesses – many of them tiny family-run operations – that together form a $2.4 billion dollar fishing industry.

So it wasn't a surprise when Wholey mentioned shrimping first among the impacts felt by the student Rethinkers. The Gulf is the top producer of seafood, including shrimp, in the U.S. And Louisiana shrimp is a major cultural and economic support for families in region. Think gumbo, think jambalaya, think remoulade, think Creole. Or think about that delicate shrimp cocktail in a New York restaurant – it probably came from the Gulf.

In fact, in 2008, when the Rethinkers published their influential Twelve Recommendations for Public School Cafeterias, among their recommendations was this language on shrimp, a local food source that is likely to be devastated by the spill:

karen brown - How the Oil Spill is Affecting New Orleans Schools

"We are trying to figure out now how we can be supportive of the shrimpers," says Wholey. "We're heartbroken because the public school food market we've been trying to open to them will probably not be possible right now.We are committed to the survival of the shrimpers...and the shrimp!"

In addition to the fishing industry, tourism and the oil industry are major employers throughout the region. All three industry sectors are slowed or suspended during this crisis, affecting the incomes of families and their children throughout the entire Gulf region.

"We have families with no money coming in," says Wholey.

And the impact lost revenue may have on the region's tax base that supports schools is as yet unknown, in an area that is still rebuilding from the impact of Katrina.

The red circle on the map at the top of this page illustrates a 150-mile radius centered on the city of New Orleans. A 150-mile radius is often used as a way of introducing students to the area around their home that would provide locally sourced food, which for the Rethinkers includes shrimp. The black area on the map is the approximate size and location of the spill at this writing. An animation of the formation and growth of the spill is at

Dr. Carolie Sly, Education Program Director for the Center for Ecoliteracy comments, "When students know what foods originate within a 150-mile radius of their home, they have a deeper understanding of the consequences of a disaster like the oil spill off the coast of New Orleans.  Seafood from that region, particularly shrimp, is a significant part of the local diet and represents a large part of the economy.  The oil spill will disrupt the local seafood industry and will severely curtail the availability of shrimp and other seafood, not only for those within a 150-mile radius of New Orleans, but for people across the nation."

You can leave a message of support for New Orleans students below. We'll make sure they get it.



11 comments posted

Damage in New Orleans

Submitted by Rain (not verified) on Thu, 2012-09-20 10:12.

There isn't enough money in the world to pay for all the damage this is doing, and that has already done. That area will not be whole again for maybe 50-100 years, if ever. Species may be lost. BP is already pointing at Transocean, and Transocean is pointing at BP, and they're both pointing at Halliburton, who is pointing back. You get the picture. The lawsuits will go on for years to come, and in the end We the People will pay for it. Some, with everything they've got, but all will pay in some way or other. Higher gas prices, higher fish prices, higher food prices. You know how it goes.

As the cost of fossil fuels

Submitted by Clifton Torello (not verified) on Sat, 2012-08-18 14:26.

As the cost of fossil fuels become more expensive, it is up to us to use alternative power sources.

BP is such a joke… they

Submitted by forrestttaft (not verified) on Mon, 2010-10-25 15:29.

BP is such a joke… they should all be arrested along with the US govt. How long ago did they cap the leak? And how many legitimate claims are still “pending” from damages they suffered back in the beginning of the summer? I happen to know three people that were affected directly by BP’s shady PR tactics and manipulation of our laws, one of whom was a journalist who was almost arrested and charged with felonies for taking pictures of oil covered animals near the coast. Not only is it bad enough that thousands of fishers’ lively hoods are ruined for god knows how many years to come, they were paid a pathetic amount of money to clean up BP’s own mess. To add even more insult to injury, BP used Corexit 9527, which contains mainly 2-butoxyethanol, which is very toxic. You wouldn’t have to be a scientist to know that, since in the first week of using it over 70 fisherman ended up at the hospital. Of course if you even inquired about this, I’m sure the govt (which is pretty much owned by oil companies) would deal with you quite quickly, let alone taking pictures of it in an attempt to run a story on it.

My friend who almost got arrested on felony charges simply went out on a boat into about 30 feet of water and used a water proof cam to photograph one of the many oil plumes forming at the bottom of the surface (which BP vehemently denies). Now here comes the hilarious part. He switched the film in his camera with a blank one in the event they were stopped by police, which they were as soon as they got back to shore. They let him go but still took his name down, and what do you know... later that night, 2 guys wearing black hoodies attempted to break into his house. He caught pics of them on his home security system (he saved the pics… wireless home security camera break in photos). Hmm, I wonder who paid these guys to break in and what they were after? Definitely not BP or our govt, that’s for sure!


Submitted by waycleavalk (not verified) on Wed, 2010-10-20 19:05.

Glad to become member of this community

The issue on BP oil spill is

Submitted by Lawrence (not verified) on Fri, 2010-06-11 00:09.

The issue on BP oil spill is still yet unresolved. This BP oil leak is getting worse. This greatly affect not only the environment but also the economy. This reminds me of the Lakeview Gusher of 1910. The oil leak in 1910 released some 378 million gallons of oil, making it the worst ever in history. I just really hope that the oil spill that we have today would now be solved. However, some are putting too much politics on this issue. If we really want to solve this problem, it is best that we now help so that this problem would now be solved.

thinking of you

Submitted by ricardo (not verified) on Sat, 2010-06-05 03:58.

Children, I admire your ability to endure difficulty and disappointment. Stay together, support and respect each other, work for your community and become activists to demand social environmental justice. My thoughts will be with you.

Localvore and the Oil Spill

Submitted by Jan (not verified) on Thu, 2010-05-06 11:16.

Hi, our thoughts are with you. This spill is the manifestation of the hidden oil spill we have built our economy and world upon. It is wonderful to hear stories like the 'Rethinkers' re imagining their education in the context of sustainable and local food production--where the need for oil can be reduced or removed. I will be very excited to hear about how you would re invent education in your schools.

Thanks, Karen

Submitted by Mike (not verified) on Wed, 2010-05-05 12:51.

This is one of the worst disasters in our nation's history. I hope we can learn from this and stop the "drill,baby,drill" rhetoric once and for all.

Thanks for your blog. Always a fresh perspective.

Local Food

Submitted by Corinne (not verified) on Tue, 2010-05-04 23:23.

Hello Re-thinkers!

I just discovered you today and I am thrilled to learn of your five years together. You have created a very impressive program!

I want to you know that there are a lot of people around the country broken hearted about the oil spill in the Gulf. I know this will mean no local shrimp for your lunches for a while, and other sacrifices the whole area will have to deal with.

My Memere was born in New Orleans in 1900, and I still have family in Metairie. I remember eating a lot of seafood PoBoy's when I was your age!

I wonder now what projects you might work on? Maybe you all will help lead the discussions on renewable energy and all the jobs it will create. Anyone like math and science?

This is a tough time for all of you to watch what is happening in your backyards, and I hope you find some positive aspects by working together to find solutions to some of these recent challenges.

I am so impressed with your program, I have a feeling that you will find a way to keep learning and growing and helping others. I hope to keep up with your news.

warm aloha,


Karen's article, Corinne's note

Submitted by Jane Wholey (not verified) on Thu, 2010-05-06 09:14.

Hello Karen and also Corinne from Hawaii:

Thank you, from all of us at Rethink, for the story, Karen. Your appreciation and accurate reporting means mountains to us.

Corinne, what a delightful letter. I'll make sure that the Rethinkers see it. They'll be touched and excited by your praise. You can contact us directly you want to. See my email below.

Jane Wholey
Rethink Director

Projects from the Rethinkers

Submitted by karen on Wed, 2010-05-05 08:31.

Corinne, thank you for your comments. Regarding projects from the Rethinkers, we will be posting a story soon about their participation in a national design competition to design a "school of the future". Check back! Karen

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