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Editor's Note

At Audubon we prefer to use the word disaster for something so epic it almost defies language. “Spill” seems much too dainty—like tea in a saucer—for a blowout spewing the equivalent of four Exxon Valdezes a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the following pages we seek to offer you perspectives you probably haven’t seen elsewhere. Soon after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, we sent Justin Nobel, a young and tireless reporter, to the Gulf to file regular blogs about the beaches, birds, and people; we’ve printed eight of them in this issue (see “Dispatches”). “Stuck with fishing line to a gnarled mangrove is the dying pelican, slightly oiled,” writes Justin, who has since moved to New Orleans. “Its would-be saviors wear white suits and walk slowly toward the bird through oil-soaked muck. As they near, hundreds of birds dart into the sky, abandoning their nests.” (Read his latest here.)

Meanwhile, design director Kevin Fisher told Kim Hubbard, Audubon’s versatile photo editor, to pack her bags for the Gulf. While on assignment she filed brilliant blogs with searing images, including one of a rescued loggerhead turtle (page 78 in the print issue). “After weeks of watching news of the oil spill from afar, it was suddenly all too real, and I struggled to hold back tears. The turtles were obviously in distress, and it was completely heartbreaking to see.” Shedding further light on the fate of aquatic creatures is Carl Safina, one of the preeminent marine scientists of our time (see “Toxic Brew”).

Meanwhile, Audubon’s veteran Incite columnist, Ted Williams, flew to Louisiana expecting the worst (see “Black Bayou”) but managed to come home “less depressed.” He quotes Bruce Reid, from Audubon’s Mississippi River Initiative: “We would hope that some good will come out of this tragedy.” Some of that long-term good might spring from $5 billion of BP’s escrow account being used to bring back the Mississippi River delta, Ted reports. Mike Tidwell, a climate change activist and the author of Bayou Farewell, a seminal work on the region, also returned to the delta (see “Windfall”). The disaster he saw stiffened his resolve to fight for offshore wind energy. 

Gazing at the silvery ocean suffused with mid-afternoon’s orange hues while aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner in June, I thought about the resilience of nature and humans. I was traveling from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, site of the horrific 1969 oil blowout, to report on a program to restore the endangered western snowy plover. The twin pleasures of the plover’s success and traveling by train on one of this country’s many scenic rail routes (for 10 of the best, see “The Great Escape”) reminded me of a few more bright signs in our darkened world.

Kim and Justin after seeing the Deepwater Horizon rig site from BP’s $23 million Sikorsky helicopter.

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