Beach Walk: Dauphin Island 3 Years After the BP Oil Spill

Beach Walk: Dauphin Island 3 Years After the BP Oil Spill

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Located 3 miles south of Mobile Bay, you'll find Dauphin Island. The only way on and off the island is by its high rise bridge. I started my walk on the east end of the island, and worked my way west.

The white sands are clear and clean now. Scott Brown was the first person I ran into. He's lived on the island for 10 years and remembers when the oil washed ashore.

"It was just really bad. It was scary for a while because we thought the whole island was going to be covered with oil. The oil got pretty bad on the beach where you couldn't walk without getting oil on you," said Brown. 

Fears were so high during the oil spill, that sand and wall barriers were put up all around the island. Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier says it put the island out of business.

"The oil spill essentially shut us down as an island community,as a business community, because everything that we had to offer was taken away. you couldn't go swimming, you couldn't go to the beach, you couldn't go boating," said Mayor Collier.

We walked and walked and made our way to the middle of the island, approaching residential property. The high winds made my hat fly off several times.

We spotted a crab boat, and fishermen on the hunt for their next big catch, but even better, we found not one tar ball. But what you we did see is the vibrant wildlife - like osprey nests and brown pelicans. Shoreline birds were the most affected during the oil spill, today they are thriving. Along with the native birds, the barrier island is also an important sanctuary for migrating birds from South America. I caught up with Matthew Capps, who oversees the bird sanctuary.

"Now we see migratory birds, they are typically flying and laying inland, so the impact wasn't an issue. So we've had one of the best spring season's we've ever had, but that's mainly due to the weather, not necessarily the oil impact," said Capps.

My photographer and I finally made our way to the west side of Dauphin Island. Here, the sand was cleanest, blown smooth by the wind. I ran into a married couple from Illinois. They've been vacationing on Dauphin Island for the last 4 years and came down 11 days after the spill.

"There was only one bad day. On the Monday, you could smell the oil, other than that it was perfect," said Nick Gutierrez.

"So I guess now, can you tell there was even a problem here?" I asked.

"No, no. No not at all, I mean we buy the seafood from the local skinner in town and it's all good.

But problems still loom for the barrier island. The mayor tells me his next big project is to prolong the island's inevitable fate, which is the washing away of sand or sand erosion. Starting with the island's east end.

"There has been a lot of erosion over the years and with that we hope to be able to reconfigure some of the gettys that are off shore here to help give some protection. Our ultimate goals to to protect upland properties, particularly the bird sanctuary, that's under threat, but also to create some more public beaches to the island that we have here in the east end versus those on the west end," said Mayor Collier.

The mayor says every now and then after a big storm a tar ball or two may wash ashore, and 3 years after the nation's biggest environmental disaster the island is back in business.

So here's the bottom line: I found no tar balls on the beach, tourism is up again, and the island is seeing one of the best season's for bird migration. I give Dauphin Island an a A+.

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