Picture Show: How Shrimpboat Captains Became American Heroes After the Oil Spill
A slow storm. That's how the photographer Michael Koehler describes the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With some area waters closed to fishing during the season in which fishermen make 75 percent of their annual income, locals like Ricky Robin—a seventh generation shrimper Koehler began photographing in 2008—are lucky to find work cleaning the oil. Recently, Koehler visited Robin and his family, and documented Robin's work booming the barrier islands near the BP site at Hopedale, Louisiana. With little more than bandanas to protect themselves from the floating toxins, Robin and other men now load their boats with booms instead of shrimp, and incidents of fishermen getting sick are becoming common.
"To me this project has been about finding American heroes," says Koehler, who, alongside Robin in a helicopter flight over the Gulf, captured images that convey the staggering magnitude of the problem. "These people have a strong oral tradition, and they know their heritage. After generations of working on the water, they're on the front lines of the spill. Their way of life is being destroyed and they're not even being properly prepared or protected. That feels criminal."
"I don't know if there's a lot of hope," he says, "but I do know that theirs is a culture of action. And these guys have a history of rising to the occasion."
What follows is a selection from Michael Koehler's "Wild American Shrimp."