A student intern led Toby around the Institute research and rehabilitation area.
“These are Kemp’s Ridleys,” Molly St. John explained. Several small sea turtles swam around a large tank.
“I see these frequently from my boat,” Toby said.
” It is one of the smallest of the seven turtle species found in the Gulf of Mexico. It is endangered,” Molly said.
Toby studied the young graduate student. It was obvious she was perfectly placed in her chosen life’s work. She was a graduate student focused on marine ecology at University of South Alabama.
Sea turtles, dolphins, and a small whale were being cared for in large tanks and pool at the Institute. They had been injured by boats, or caught in fishing nets or floating debris, and others suffered from a weakened immune system.
Toby and Molly had just left a meeting with an Institute scientist about the dolphin Toby and Marsha had reported to the refuge. He had suggested that Holly and Toby discuss ways Toby’s community could assist the Institute in tracking the bottlenose dolphin population near their city.
The scientist confirmed Toby’s suspicions that the impacts of the oil spill continued in the Gulf ecosystems. But, it wasn’t only the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It was the combined impact of 4,000 oil wells in the Gulf.
“That, plus the fact that the Gulf leaks oil from cracks in its underlying bedrock. That’s what we call a natural baseline of this particular marine ecosystem, ” Molly explained as they walked to her office. “It’s a combination of forces that are changing the Gulf ecosystem. Climate change is not easily visible to the eye. Warmer temperatures shift the chemistry of the air and water interface, and microbial communities at the base of the food chain are also changing.”
“So, how do ordinary citizen make sense of it? This requires more scientific literacy than most citizens possess, I’m afraid.”
Toby plopped herself in front of Molly’s disheveled desk. Molly put on a pot of coffee and offered Toby a powerbar.
“I am impressed you sailed here on your own,” Molly said sitting at her desk and flinging her long tanned legs on the desk. Her golden hair swung above her sun-burned shoulders, and her bronzed face and warm brown eyes shown with youth’s radiance.
“Me too.” Toby laughed. “This is a first for me . . . to solo such a distance.”
Toby shared a short biography with Molly who seemed engrossed in her story.
“We can build on your writing classes and experience in schools. I gotta meet the Fishin’ Chix, too,” Molly said. “I think I might like those girls.” Shifting to the issue at hand and mindful that Toby had to get back on the water, she explained how Toby’s community could help her with her research. “Adults and teens can submit data using a survey tool that we provide to monitor a particular area on a regular basis. And, you can use your experience as a writing teacher to get folks writing about the Gulf and advocating for conservation and rehabilitation. That,” she emphasized, “could be more powerful. Raise awareness, send folks to City Hall.”
“Could you meet with a group of us if I prepare them ahead of time so we don’t waste your time?” Toby’s mind was racing ahead with a plan to engage her peers and through them multiple groups of stakeholders.
It was dark when Toby arrived at a dock on a small inlet in Mobile, Alabama. She motored in slowly and tied up near the Banana Docks Café, famous for its Cajun cuisine and one of Toby and Ron’s haunts. She would stay overnight in the small hotel on the harbor, then resume her trip at dawn.
After a dish of blackened grouper finished off with bread pudding and praline sauce, she would sleep like a baby. Before she dove into bed, Toby called Marsha to let her know her location. Her dear friend had insisted when she learned of Toby’s solo sail. At that point in the trip it still seemed like a good idea. She’d overestimated her progress tacking-back against a steady SW current and offshore breeze. It was okay with her. She needed the time to mentally plan how to mobilize her community, and move City Hall in the right direction.
That night she dreamed of Ron. On waking it occurred to her that their relationship had been defined by the Gulf of Mexico. She loved that.