What lurks beneath

Debris washed up on the beach in Biloxi, Mississppi, 30 August 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: There's a scene in "Forrest Gump" when Forrest becomes a shrimp boat captain and the only thing he catches is junk floating beneath the surface. It was pretty humorous on film, but it's not funny at all in real life. The receding flood waters of Hurricane Katrina flushed tons of debris back into the Gulf of Mexico. And now, it's causing problems for fishing and tourism. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Stephen Smith reports.

[ Sound of construction and ocean ]

STEPHEN SMITH: This is the Biloxi beach, which is sandwiched between state highway 90 and the Gulf of Mexico. There's construction equipment out here - bulldozer and a grader - cleaning up the sand today, picking up sheet metal, trees, clothing, windows, doors, splintered wood. And when the tide goes out you can see the same stuff in the water.

The US Coast Guard is coordinating a $30 million project to clean up Mississippi coastal waters. Captain Ed Stanton says the Coast Guard didn't get its orders from FEMA until December.

ED STANTON: We know that there's a tremendous amount of debris in the residential canals in the communities. We can see it. The open waters are more problematic.

Problematic because there's miles of territory to cover, and the storm wreckage is so spread out. It'll be months - even years - before the cleanup is done.

[ Sound of seagulls ]

Down at the Biloxi harbor, Steve Garlotte is helping a friend paint a shrimp boat banged up by the storm. Shrimpers may get hired to help drag for debris but it's not clear when. Garlotte says that with shrimp season starting in June he may have to clean up the water for free.

STEVE GARLOTTE: We have to work. Boats cost too much money to sit there and idle. It's our living. We'll have to go out there and drag and whatever we catch we'll just have to suffer the consequences. If it tears our nets up we'll have to patch 'em.

[ Sound of boat idling ]

STEPHEN SMITH: What are you gonna do now?

COREY ELEUTERIUS: Put a net in the water, show you how it drags. This is what commercial shrimp boats do right here. Except they don't explain everything.

In the waters just off Biloxi, Corey and Virginia Eleuterius show tourists how a shrimp boat trawls for its catch.

COREY ELEUTERIUS: That's a white shrimp and that's pink shrimp...

There aren't many customers for the boat tour right now. But Corey and his wife got ready for them anyway.

COREY ELEUTERIUS: Before we started up this year we went out and put chains on the trawler doors. We drug an area and got most of the debris out of there. We got a little path cleaned out so we can put the trawler in and drag it without worrying about demolishing a trawler every time we go out there and set one in the water.

In a normal season the shrimp tour draws thousands of people. This year Corey and Virginia expect just a fraction.

[ Sound of water lapping on shoreline ]

Along the waterfront, three of Biloxi's casinos are open now and doing brisk business. If some of those tourists decide to cruise the shoreline on a jet-ski or simply wade in the water, they need to watch out for submerged hazards, including rusted metal and shattered glass. The official advice: Be careful and wear surf shoes.

From American RadioWorks, this is Stephen Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Smith is the executive editor and host of American RadioWorks, the highly respected documentary series from American Public Media.

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