There is evidence that the Gulf of Mexico is healing: The deserted marina in Venice, La., once invaded by camera crews and work boats, has been reclaimed by charter boat captains who haul yellowfin tuna off their skiffs and hang them up with pride. Only 7 percent of the Gulf is still closed to fishing. The fishermen -- and their smiles -- have returned.
But 40 miles south of New Orleans, oil from the BP spill six months ago continues to leach into the landscape.
The April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killed 11 workers and released nearly 180 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. Three months after the well was capped, the oil still keeps coming up.
Through the narrow canals toward Barataria Bay, where some of the most prized shrimping grounds in the world can be found, Frank Lamere and his cleanup crew have been working on the same marsh for four months.
He said the oil spreads for miles. "It's definitely here. Look at the green grass under it. It's gonne die," said Lamere, a former fisherman. He and his workers call the area the toilet.
Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, cited official estimates that say 50 percent of the leaked crude could still be in the Gulf.
"Some has been picked up, but of course not much of it," Lehner said. "Recently scientists are discovering underwater oil plumes. Every time they look again, they see oil in the sediment."
Lamere said the government and BP need to put more effort into the cleanup. Every day the tide washes the marsh anew with oil. By morning, the reeds have been painted brown, and when the sun heats up the soggy turf, oil oozes out.
Lamere and his crew say they've vacuumed about 2,000 gallons a day from this spot alone for weeks.
"Obviously you can see that it's not over, just because they capped the well," he said Friday. By Tuesday, the cleanup effort had been scaled down and Lamere's team and others had been laid off. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, the government's on-scene coordinator, said that the number of cleanup workers has been cut from 48,000 to 13,000.
Government scientists say that the Gulf's ecosystem is hardier than they had anticipated. Steve Murawski, chief fisheries scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, likened the environmental impact to a concussion, not to a death blow.
In Grand Terre Island, La., the population of birds is much healthier and it's difficult to find one that's been oiled at all. Last week, crews found a single oiled bird.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4,300 oiled birds were found dead -- many fewer than had been feared -- as well as four mammals. Three of them were dolphins.
Marine biologists like Mobi Solangi of the Marine Mammal Research Center in Gulfport, Miss., said, however, that many dolphines and turtles may have died in the sea.
Though Mother Nature seems to be healing, the psychological landscape of the Gulf remains dark. Many fear that prices and the demand for Gulf seafood will never return.
Glen Foche, a shrimper fixing his nets outside of Port Sulfur, La., found shrimp stocks hit-or-miss this season. He reached into a cooler full of shrimp, pulled one out and plucked off its head, revealing a row of brown gills.