Cordova Marine Advisory agent recalls trip to Louisiana oil spill

"No one was ready to give up"



NR: SG-2010/NR305

Cordova, Alaska—In 1989, Torie Baker was a commercial salmon fisherman in Cordova, Alaska, when the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of heavy Alaskan crude oil onto some 1,500 miles of Alaska beaches. Baker helped organize fishermen to clean up the spill and worked to restore the region's ecology and obtain fair compensation for fishermen affected by the spill.

Today, Baker is the regional Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent in Cordova.

Torie Baker Torie Baker, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program Agent for Cordova, Alaska. Photo by Kurt Byers/Alaska Sea Grant.

In early May 2010, the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Programs (Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi-Alabama and Texas) invited Baker and Joe Banta, a senior environmental monitoring program project manager with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council, to come to the Louisiana coast to see firsthand the communities being affected by the oil leaking from the former Deepwater Horizon exploration well, and to share their experiences and lessons learned from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. In the following audio clips, Baker describes her trip and offers a glimpse of what life is like for the coastal people facing the latest major U.S. oil spill.

Note: All links below are to MP3 files.

Torie, what was the purpose of the trip?

“This thing has not yet happened to its fullest is happening.

Boat collecting oil Louisiana shrimp boat under contract with BP to skim oil. Photo Getty Images, 2010.

What is the situation with the oil spill there now along the Louisiana coast—how is it affecting coastal residents and the economy?

Where along the Gulf Coast did you go exactly, and what is happening on the ground nearest the spill? How are residents getting involved in the cleanup or protecting the coastline?

“One of the things we kept hearing from folks was a real concern for the lack of information.”

In 1989, you experienced the Exxon Valdez spill firsthand, at the time the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Now that you’ve been to the scene of this latest spill, what parallels and differences have you noticed?

Tell us about some of the things you spoke about when you met with fishermen, community leaders, and others?

Specifically, what resources or lessons from the spill do you think will have the most positive impact there?

“All hands are on deck both in Alaska and throughout the whole Sea Grant network.”

Torie Baker Torie Baker is a veteran of the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and has fished commercially for salmon in Prince William Sound for more than two decades.

Internally, how has the national network of Sea Grant Programs responded to the spill, and do you know of any plans for response in the months ahead?

How did you and Joe Banta organize yourselves, brace yourselves, to handle this experience?

“We lived and breathed it literally every minute that we were down there. You know the fishermen are going through exactly what we went through.”

On a personal note, did going to Louisiana and seeing the impacts of this spill give you a sense of déjà vu, a sense of “here we go again” with the emotions you felt following the Exxon Valdez oil spill?

As a region that has been struggling to rebuild since the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina some five years ago, this latest calamity would seem to be just devastating to people’s spirit. Did you find that to be true?

“I didn’t find a one of them that was willing or interested at all in giving up. There was a lot of uncertainty, and there is a lot of fear, but they are still there.”

What efforts will Sea Grant likely be involved in to try to prevent this sort of environmental damage from happening again?

The Alaska Sea Grant College Program is a statewide marine research, education, communication, and extension service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Alaska Sea Grant is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with the State of Alaska and private industry.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is a statewide university extension and technical assistance program that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy Alaska's marine and coastal resources.