Photographer dives into Gulf - sees only oil

BY RICH MATTHEWS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO
Last updated 08:16 10/06/2010

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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.

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.

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- AP

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