Each year, my friends and I look forward to the long weekend when we rent a beach house on the white sands of the Florida panhandle. The few days we spend there always go by too quickly; they’re filled with time spent on the dock fishing for redfish and cast netting for mullet. We kayak through the water as osprey fly above us and swim with an eye out for dolphins in the surf. As the sun sets, we invariably retire to the house to grill up the day’s catch on the barbecue. We drink beers, eat seafood and laugh while we listen to waves crash against the beach. It’s true when they say the simple things in life may bring the most pleasure.
It’s a pleasure that has been taken from us, and perhaps our children as well. All of us along the Gulf Coast are looking out on the ocean helplessly as ecological disaster looms. Discouraging news drifts in like the oil-soaked birds that will soon litter the beaches. We are no longer able to fish, the shrimp season has been closed early. Those that rely on these resources for their sustenance and livelihood can only wait and watch with the rest of us. We can’t yet know how the ecosystem will be affected, we can only estimate when the oil slicks will first hit our coastal wetlands, when the animals that fly through the water begin floating on top instead.
Calling recent events a leak or a spill does not sufficiently capture the scope of the disaster. Today, 210,000 gallons of oil are escaping into the Gulf of Mexico, as they have every day since the explosion two weeks ago on the British Petroleum rig Deepwater Horizon. For all those who warned about the perils of offshore drilling, it’s a nightmare come true. Don’t call it a fluke either. Because tragedies like this are exactly the reason the practice is opposed by so many. No technology can guarantee safety and nothing is worth the cost we incur when things go wrong. Vindication though, brings no pleasure now.
The media has been covering the disaster, environmental groups are mobilizing thousands of volunteers, and concern has been raised throughout the nation. But, it’s not enough to be concerned, it’s not enough to shake one’s head and say this is a shame. Not when one considers that we may never be able to restore the Gulf of Mexico.
Unless we start becoming proactive about the choices we make, this will inevitably happen again. It has been slightly over 20 years since the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. I doubt it will be another 20 years until the next disaster. Until we start making responsible decisions about our consumption, until we put everything we have into developing alternative energies, until we pledge to stop supporting politicians that think the way to oil independence is to look for more of it, we have something in common with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, we’re both just blowing smoke. Enough is enough, this is a catastrophe of epic proportions in our very own backyard and if it’s not the wakeup call we needed regarding the need to make some hard but necessary choices about energy use, then we have bigger problems than those facing the Gulf of Mexico today.
The next time disaster strikes, and it will, it won’t be the fault of the oil industry, it will be ours.
It was only a few months ago that I accompanied a Florida biologist monitoring loggerhead sea turtles nests in Okaloosa County. Flashlights were strictly forbidden to avoid confusing any turtles trying to find their way to the safety of the ocean. In the darkness, we huddled around a small patch of beach that hid a nest that had not yet hatched. As this species was particularly rare, it was important to determine the fate of the eggs underground. Handful after handful of sand was removed and a collective gasp emanated from the crowd as a baby sea turtle was revealed with its flippers flapping, it was one of many released safely into the ocean that night. Now, they could be some of the very same turtles that are struggling to stay alive as a coat of oil covers their entire world.