Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts from the Gulf of Mexico

Sarah Goodwin-Nguyen Journal

Tuesday, May 4th 2010
12:51 PM
BP Oil Spill and Ecological Disaster
As I write, an amount of oil I cannot wrap my brain around is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

Do the oil executives cry, the way I have been crying, spontaneously, over the last few days, measuring the damage? I don’t imagine they fret for the senseless death of innocent creatures who have never used a drop of oil. I doubt they lose sleep over the imperiled reddish egret, whose nesting sites are in the path of danger. I don't suppose they are concerned that those of us who care about nature, who wake up in the morning and LIVE for the sight of the pelicans jumping for pinfish or an osprey soaring above the turquoise blue water, those of us who equate encounters with dolphins and sea turtles as religious experiences, we are walking around feeling like we've been kicked in the gut.

There is something so wrong, so arrogant, with us descending into the depths of the ocean, a still, alien environment where we clearly do not belong, doing damage. The idea is abhorrent, that we should be puncturing giant holes in the ocean floor to suck out black oil. We have no right to disrupt this ecosystem, so complicated and so interdependent, that the tiniest planktonic larva can affect the magnificently intelligent and humongous whale. We should not BE there if all we are going to do is make a mess of things.

So far, says the news reports, 29 Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the smallest, most adorable, and most endangered sea turtle of the 7 species of sea turtles on the planet (all of which are either threatened or endangered) have washed up dead over the last few days. There are maybe a few thousand of them in the whole world. They only lay their eggs on a few tiny beaches off the Gulf of Mexico.

When I worked at the Aquarium, I got to know two Kemp's ridleys: Lola and Pepi. Pepi was born in a laboratory, where she did not thrive. She was permanently disfigured and floated around, lopsided, only swimming to the left. Every day, customers would tell us one of our turtles was dead as she napped at the top of the tank, floating, her shell sticking out of the water at an awkward angle. But Pepi held her own against the stingrays and cobia in her tank. She bullied Lola. She was crazy about squid, and pushed her way to the front of the tank during feeding. Her tankmate, Lola, was a victim of a fishing line entanglement, like so many of the wild animals I've met in the Keys. Lola lost two flippers because of it.

I remember when a colleague and I drove to Marathon to fetch Pepi and Lola in a truck. We had to continuously moisten their flippers and eyes with vaseline, and they made stressed gasping noises that tugged at my heart. They belonged in the water. But humans had so botched the stewardship of these creatures that here they were, some of the last of an ancient species, mangled. They were given a permanent home at the aquarium, where they learned to enjoy having their backs scratched with a pool brush, having their picture taken, and being hand-fed as much squid as their bellies would hold.

Twenty-nine Kemp’s ridleys. And counting.

For some reason, these oil rigs were built, knowing that this could possibly happen, yet only NOW, when precious weeks, days, minutes will be lost do they think to build something to fix the problem. Why wasn’t something in place BEFORE the problem occurred? Why were these rigs built if we do not even have the technology to fix a massive oil spill should it occur? Because it is always only a matter of time before it occurs. We know this, because it has happened before, and it was just as awful then.

Who is in charge? Who is in charge of this ocean?

I took a bike ride along the beach and mangroves and kept thinking this might be the last time for decades the water will look so clear There’s something called the “Loop Current,”and if the spill hits it, a slick the size of states will reach the Florida Keys, home of the only living (barely) coral reef in North America. Elsewhere, someone else’s view has already been tainted for months to come, they will look upon a graveyard where used to be a cauldron of life.

The waters off Key West are far from pristine. They are littered with human debris: air mattresses, plastic bags, and soda bottles. Cruise ships dump their filth here. People fish rapaciously, leaving injurious monofilament lines everywhere. Sometimes, they leave the heads of nurse sharks they’ve slaughtered for no reason at all. I see the results of human callousness every day at the Wildlife Center: birds with hooks in their eyes, wings broken from fishing line, mouths filled with bacterial infections from the poisoned water.

Still, wildlife perseveres. Until it can’t.

And what is there for someone like me to do about this? I still have to live in this world, which, apparently, needs oil. Already, I don’t drive a car. I try to make “green” choices. The heart of the problem is ARROGANCE; You can marvel at the works of man: ships and cars, televisions and oil rigs, but nothing made by human hands, no bridge or painting, no poem or weapon of mass destruction is as marvelous as what was already here, created by God or by Nature, whichever you prefer to call it. The problem is GREED which has run unchecked: Wall Street is bloated with it, the banks, the oil companies, the car makers.

11 workers died in the explosion. They are hardly collateral damage.

Then, there’s the actual collateral damage, the fishermen, hotel workers, boat captains, restaurant workers; the people who live off the tourists. As usual, the people most hurt by catastrophe are the ones who live paycheck to paycheck. The oil guys, even the ones who get fired, probably still have assets and big 401k’s.

I am having an emotional response to this oil spill. No, more than that: I'm having a PHYSICAL response. My head, my stomach. I am mourning, something I loved has been hurt badly. I am not the only one.

Look, just stop the offshore drilling, okay? Find another way. Do not destroy the ocean. Do not kill all the animals in the sea and on the shore. Let’s just start with that.

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