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A&E | Vol. 35, No. 5, July 22, 2010
(Ballsy Plan VII)

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Meet the Documenters

by Ashley Hardaway

Pensacola Residents Get the Word Out Through Social Media

Since the beginning of the oil spill, a new breed of reporting has popped up along the Gulf Coast -- one born out of frustration and despair that there was so little that locals could do to stop this catastrophe. Type "Pensacola oil spill" into social media websites such as You Tube and Facebook, and you're likely to come across the following groups run by locals. The following individuals and organizations are leading the way for other citizen journalists by documenting what is happening on our beaches and sending it out to the masses. In an era when mainstream media outlets can be brutally selective of what stories get told, these people are telling ours, any way they can.

Coastal Warriors
Facebook Group: Coastal Warriors

Gregg Hall, or Pcola Gregg as his You Tube followers know him, was always a fan of the water. "I was out swimming a couple of months ago in the bay, and my mom was there, sitting up on the shoreline, and when I got out she said, 'You know you looked just like you did as a child out there, so excited. Like it was the first time you had seen water.' So yeah, I've always been a water baby."

Since the beginning of the oil spill, Hall has been documenting the condition of our shorelines daily, uploading pictures and videos to You Tube and his Facebook Coastal Warriors page, utilizing his background in online marketing to his advantage. When the BBC saw his You Tube videos, they contacted him so reporter Andy Gallacher could walk the shores with him and see for himself.

Even though he's done stories with CNN and has become a fixture on local news channels, he's not dependent on the mainstream media to get the word out. "The thing is, they're not interested in what's going on here. And they're not going to care until it looks as bad here as it does in Louisiana."

So he posts online to get the word out to individuals who want to know what's happening here, and he's got followers from all over the world. "I meet a lot of apathetic individuals who aren't concerned because it's 'not as bad here.' But this oil spill is going to be bad all over. It's going to affect everyone. The Gulf is a very important body of water. It's going to be bad, and it's going to get worse."

Hall is very much an advocate for Pensacola, speaking at functions for the National Wildlife Federation and traveling all over the Gulf region to report what's going on. When asked why he does it, he replies simply, "It's not just a local issue -- it's a global issue. So I post the pictures and videos because they really speak for themselves."

Damn Oil
Facebook Group: Damn Oil

Kim Rainer left her job two years ago so she could travel with her husband, who worked out of town frequently. "Back then, I was going to the beach and enjoying it. Now I'm going to the beach and am in disbelief of what I am seeing."

She started posting pictures to her Facebook profile so her friends and family that lived out of town could see what was happening. Soon she was getting friend requests from strangers so they could also see the footage, so she started a Facebook page called Damn Oil, which now is one of the most popular local groups dedicated to the local effects of the oil spill. "I realize that some people bristle at the name 'Damn Oil,' but honestly, when I was trying to decide what to name it, that was the nicest way I could think of putting it."

Rainer is adamant, however, that she's not an activist. "I like to refer to myself as a documenter. I'm not presenting what I see with any political spin -- I'm simply presenting it to the public and letting them draw their own conclusions."

Kim started documenting shortly after June 23, a day that she remembers vividly. "I was out by Fort Pickens watching the Blue Angels practice. The news reports were the same 'we may see oil' reports that we had been hearing for weeks. And after the practice I drove my car around, parked it and walked out to the shoreline on the other side of Fort Pickens. And as I'm walking to the beach, I'm thinking, "What a beautiful day," and then I stopped dead in my tracks. My God, there was oil everywhere. And it was one of those eerie 'you think the world is fine and then it's not,' moments."

Emerald Coastkeeper
Facebook Group: Emerald Coastkeeper

Emerald Coastkeeper (ECK), the Northwest Florida chapter of the Waterkeeper Alliance, has its headquarters in Pensacola. It was founded in 1999 to respond to citizen reports of pollution and adverse environmental impacts, report permit violations and hold governmental representatives accountable for protecting our watershed. Of course, that mission has become broader since the oil spill.

Chasidy Hobbs, who started as executive director in January, has seen her tasks infinitely multiplied since the catastrophe, but she doesn't seem to be shaken by it. "When it first started, we really concentrated on getting our local contingency plans up to par. We focused on protecting the local inland water and organizing a field of volunteers."

Since then, it has become clear that BP won't allow use of volunteer cleanup efforts, so now their focus is getting Corexit, the highly toxic dispersant that BP has readily used as a tool to fight the oil spill, off of the EPA's approved list. Emerald Coastkeeper has a website and a Facebook page where visitors can access stories, pictures and links to online petitions and volunteer efforts.

Hall, Rainer and Hobbs all agree that locals should still strive to support local businesses. "There is more to do at the beach than work on your tan. We can still enjoy our beach," Rainer says. "We just have to learn to do it in a different way."

What You Can Do

Those looking for more to do are welcome to aid Emerald Coastkeeper. ECK is in need of volunteers for their Adopt-a-Beach initiative. Volunteers will go out weekly to the same spot on the beach and fill out a one-page form about changes they notice and document it with photographs. This is important because soon Pensacola Beach will undergo what's called "Natural Resource Assessment," and it's vital to know and have proof of how much an area has changed. Interested individuals can contact ECK at

Cajun Specialty Meats will be giving 10 percent of their sales from Friday, Aug. 6 to Emerald Coastkeeper. They will also be holding special hours of operation that day and will stay open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. That evening, they will also be giving away books (donations accepted) from Dr. Ricki Ott, a marine toxicologist who has studied extensively how the Exxon Valdez disaster had an impact on that local environment, and how the Gulf oil spill is likely to affect ours. All proceeds from the book donations will go to Emerald Coastkeeper. Chasidy Hobbs will be available to answer questions.

It's easy to feel that as individuals we are incapable of doing anything to help in this devastating situation. It's important that we continue to get the word out about what's happening locally and support our local businesses. It's up to us, not just tourists, to keep their doors open.

Pensacola Beach Bars and Restaurants

Bullfeathers Bar and Grill
400 Quietwater Beach Road

Crabs We Got 'Em
6 Casino Beach Blvd.

Florida Pizza Kitchen
49 Via De Luna Drive

Flounder's Chowder House
800 Quietwater Beach Road

The Grand Marlin
400 Pensacola Beach Blvd.

Hemingway's Island Grill
400 Quietwater Beach Road

Lillo's Tuscan Grill
5 Via De Luna Drive

Native Cafe
45 Via De Luna Drive

Paddy O'Leary's Irish Pub
49 Via De Luna Drive

Papa's Pizza
400 Quietwater Beach Road

Paradise Bar and Grill
21 Via De Luna Drive

Peg Leg Pete's
1010 Fort Pickens Road

Sidelines Sports Bar
2 Via De Luna Drive

Surf Burger
500 Quietwater Beach Road