A Year in Photos: Capturing the Lingering Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill

BY Mike Fritz  April 20, 2011 at 9:36 AM EDT

Over the course of the last year, the NewsHour has been checking in with Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert, a New Orleans native who began covering the Gulf oil spill when BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sunk — a disaster that began 12 months ago today.

It was an event that killed 11 rig workers and sparked one of the biggest environmental catastrophes in U.S. history.

Herbert was part of a reporting team that provided the only shots of the immediate aftermath of the explosion and he has spent the majority of his time ever since criss-crossing the region, meeting with family members who lost loved ones aboard the Deepwater Horizon and documenting the effects of the spill’s reach on the local wildlife and ecology.

“Looking back over the last year, it’s been an exhausting process,” Herbert said from the AP’s New Orleans bureau.

Herbert also profiled several fishermen, crabbers, and restaurant owners who were all struggling to make a living while Louisiana’s tourism industry was being dealt a crippling blow.

“When the scope of the oil spill became clear last year,” Herbert said, “I saw everyone’s way of life being threatened.”

A year later, Herbert says he wanted to see how the areas he covered at the height of the oil spill were faring. He said that he saw positive signs in some places, and that clear progress was being made to mitigate the widespread damage.

But he also described some of the sights he saw as “sobering and shocking” to see, particularly the pelican rookeries in Barataria Bay, an area that took the brunt of the most visible damage, according to Herbert.

In terms of the human toll, Herbert said he often found coastal residents reluctant to talk to the media as the anniversary of the oil spill approached and that frustration was “running deep.”

“Anytime you go up to someone and you ask them how it’s going,” Herbert said. “You get that sigh and you get a sad look from them…and they shake their head and they know that retelling it is not going to make it any better.”

“It’s hard for people to verbalize what they are feeling,” Herbert said, “I think they are pushing it away, pushing it aside.”

Browse complete NewsHour coverage of the Gulf coast oil spill.