By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN — A trip to New York to lobby the UN for environmental justice took on added urgency for Louisiana native Theresa Dardar this week as a vast oil slick from the catastrophic leak in the Gulf headed straight for her hometown’s coastline.
Dardar — a Native American member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe — arrived in New York City on April 19th, eager to address the UN during a two-week forum on indigenous issues. Her prepared speech to the international agency focused on the need to shield her town, Pointe–au-Chien, from wetland destruction and strengthen their levees against hurricanes.
A day later, almost on the eve of the shrimp-fishing season, BP’s drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, declared a state of emergency.
“They said that if the oil comes to the coast that our fishery will be closed for three years," Dardar said Friday. "I don’t know what we’re going to do during that time period because most of our community are fishermen."
An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil are pouring from the submerged rig, five times as much as originally thought. The scale of the disaster is already comparable to the Exxon Valdez calamity in Alaska in 1989. Experts say it might be three months before the underwater leak is capped.
President Barack Obama pledged this week to do everything possible to minimize the damage, and the Coast Guard started burning cordoned-off patches of the oil in an attempt to keep the slick away from environmentally fragile mangrove swamps and wetlands, which are home to shrimp and fish that are vital to Louisiana's economy -- not to mention its culinary fame.
In Pointe-au-Chien, fishermen were allowed to begin the shrimping season early in an 11th-hour effort to harvest as many shrimp as possible if and when the oil slick arrives, she said.
The disaster threatens the economic survival of her tribe's approximately 700 members, many of whom rely solely on fishing for income. Pointe-au-Chien is about an hour and a half's drive southwest of New Orleans,
Ordinarily, after the close of the shrimp season, the fishermen turn to harvesting crabs and oysters, she said.
“It’s going to be hard for a lot of people if they’re out of work for three years," Dardar said. "All we can do is pray that it doesn’t reach our coastline.”