Photographer dives into Gulf - sees only oil

22:55, Jun 09 2010
Help written on beach
OIL SPILL: The word Help is written in the sand on the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama as workers battle to stop thousands of gallons of oil from a spill from hitting beaches.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SPILL: Workers gather stormwater runoff and decayed organic matter on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Gulf oil spill
GULF OIL SLICK: The crew of a Basler BT-67 fixed wing aircraft release oil dispersant over an oil discharge from the mobile offshore drilling unit, Deepwater Horizon, off the shore of Louisiana.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SLICK: A band of oil from the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana floats in the water near Freemason Island.
Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill
An oil soaked bird struggles against the side of the HOS an Iron Horse supply vessel at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Oil spill
OIL SPILL: Oil is seen on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in an aerial view of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Mobile, Alabama.
Oil from the Gulf
OIL SLICK: A man holds a plastic bag with oil from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill south of Freemason Island, Louisiana.
Protesters
OIL SPILL: Demonstrators hold placards during a rally in New Orleans to demand the cleaning of coasts as oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead continues to spread in the Gulf of Mexico.
Protective wall
OIL SPILL: A wall constructed to protect the northern shore of Dauphin Island, from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is shown in this aerial photograph.
Oil in waves
OIL SLICK: Thick black waves of oil and brown whitecaps are seen off the side of the supply vessel Joe Griffin at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts.
Oil-stained bird
OIL STAINED: A cattle egret stained by oil rests on the deck of the supply vessel Joe Griffin, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
Oil
Greenpeace senior campaigner Lindsey Allen walks through a patch of oil from the Deepwater Horizon on the breakwater in the mouth of the Mississippi River.
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Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 15 miles northwest of site of the BP oil spill.
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Dispersed oil floats on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico waters close to the site of the BP oil spill.
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Oil drips from the rubber gloves of Greenpeace Marine Biologist Paul Horsman.
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Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise.
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Greenpeace marine biologist Paul Horsman surveys oil pooled between reeds and brush.
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Veterinarians working for US Fish and Wildlife Services bathe a brown pelican at Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Oil spill
OIL SPILL: A worker shovels oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon.
Oil spill
GULF OIL SPILL: Oil fouls the water near nesting pelicans on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana.
Pelican covered in oil
PELICAN COVERED IN OIL: An oiled bird on an island in Barataria Bay just off the the coast of Louisiana.
Oil spill
CONTAMINATION: CNN reporter Anderson Cooper lays down on the bow of an air boat to take a picture as Governor Bobby Jindal, right, removes a fishing net from the oil contaminated water in Pass A Loutre near Venice, Louisiana.
Oil spill
OIL SLICK: Workers clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Pass a Loutre, Louisiana.
Oil spill in perspective
From a www.beowulfe.com program using Google maps to provide local perspective on the impact of the Gulf oil spill.
BP oil spill
A Nasa satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico shows the extent of the oil released from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
BP oil spill
BP CEO Hayward takes a first hand look at the recovery operations aboard the Discover Enterprise drill ship in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP oil spill
US President Obama walks along the Louisiana coastline while touring damage caused by oil spill.
Oiled pelican
SPILL VICTIM: A brown pelican covered in oil sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Oiled bird
OILED: A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Pelican
GULF PELICAN: A brown pelican is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon has affected wildlife throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil bird
A Pelican sits on the beach covered in oil at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast.
Pelicans
SPILL VICTIMS: Brown Pelicans, covered in oil from BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, huddle together in a cage at the International Bird Rescue Research Centre in Buras, Louisiana.
Pelican sits in oil
OIL VICTIM: An exhausted oil-covered brown pelican sits in a pool of oil along Queen Bess Island Pelican Rookery, 4.8km northeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Gulf oil spill
UNDERWATER VANTAGE: patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from underwater.
Gulf spill
UNDERWATER OIL: Patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage.
Gulf spill
OIL SPILL: Patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage.
Journalist Rich Matthews
UNDER THE SEA: AP journalist Rich Matthews takes a closer look at oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil
OIL EVERYWHERE: Rich Matthews takes a closer look at oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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EFFECTS: Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter holds barnacle samples he removed from an oil rig in waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Porter plans to determine the effect of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
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Marine reef ecologist Scott Porter works to remove oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off his hands.
Oil in bottles
GULF SPILL: Oil-tainted water from the Gulf of Mexico sits in jars placed before a group of business people and officials called Gulf Voices as they speak of their plight during a visit to Capitol Hill in Washington.
Oil spill
GULF SPILL: Crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Oil spill
GULF SPILL: Gas and oil continue to leak at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico, in this image captured from a BP live video feed.
Gulf oil spill
OIL SPILL: The Taiwanese skimmer dubbed "A Whale", left, conducts a test of its oil skimming capabilities in the Gulf of Mexico as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.
Young heron
YOUNG HERON: Young herons impacted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are seen at the Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
BP STICKS AT IT: Work continues at the site of the BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP STICKS AT IT: Work continues at the site of the BP oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
oiled heron
OIL VICTIM: A seriously oiled tri-coloured heron is spotted on Queen Bess Island near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Photographer Rich Matthew dives into the Gulf of Mexico and sees only oil.

I jump off the boat into the thickest, reddest patch of oil I've ever seen. I open my eyes and realise my mask is already smeared. I can't see anything and we're just five seconds into the dive.

Dropping beneath the surface with an oxygen tank some 64km out into the Gulf Of Mexico, the only thing I see is oil.

To the left, right, up and down - it sits on top of the water in giant pools and hangs suspended 4.5m beneath the surface in softball-size blobs. There is nothing alive under the slick, although I see a dead jellyfish and handful of small bait fish.

I'm alone because the other divers with me wouldn't get in the water without Hazmat suits on, and with my mask oiled over and the water already dark, I don't dive deep.

It's quiet, and to be honest scary, with extremely low visibility. I spend just 10 minutes swimming around taking pictures, taking video. I want people to see the spill in a new way, a way they haven't yet.

I also want to get out of the water. Badly.

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I make my way to the back of the boat unaware of just how covered I am. To be honest, I probably look a little like one of those poor pelicans we've all been seeing for days now.

The oil is thick and sticky, almost like a cake batter. It does not wipe off. You have to scrape it off, in layers, until you finally get close to the skin. Then you pour on some Dawn dishwashing soap and scrub.

I think to myself: No fish, no bird, no turtle would ever be able to clean this off itself. If any animal were to end up in this same puddle, there is almost no way it could escape.

The cleaning process goes on for half an hour before the captain will even think about letting me back in the boat. I'm clean, so I stand up.

But the bottoms of my feet still had oil, and I fall back in the water. The process starts again.

Another 30 minutes of cleaning, and finally I'm ready to step into the boat.

AP