Oil Globs on Santa Rosa Island: It’s Here

Late this afternoon I drove to Santa Rosa Island, to the entrance of a seven-mile stretch of undeveloped barrier island, protected by the Gulf Islands National Sea Shore, one of our priceless U.S. National Parks. While there was a long stretch of beautiful beach, as I walked west toward the end of the island, I began to see oil – firsts dime-sized, then bottle-cap, then hand-sized: thick crude oil, pooled and hardened among shells and sea grasses on the high tide line. Adjacent to this pollution, black skimmers sailed by with their long lower jaw skimming in the shallow edge of the surf and Least Terns dive-bombed for small fish not far off shore. Surely they must be tasting and smelling this invasion of foreign substances. We can only guess what is happening to fish, corals, jellies, dolphins, plankton…I am so profoundly sad about this awful time when we are facing our ourselves –  our ways and wants. It is NOT a pretty picture.

Only a few days ago this was the image of this treasured coast at sunrise:

And to think we are risking this and our families health for a culture addicted to speed and consumption and which cannot function without an enormous and uninterrupted supply of oil. Will it be worth it when all this plays out? And, it will continue to playout over months and years and there will be other catastrophes like it where we have taken enormous risks as the People of the Forward Stampede.

They will all be impacted by the oil catastrophe and eventually it will reach to our children and us through our air, food, and spirit.

Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola Oil Spill Update

Our local NPR station is covering our local conditions. Go to this link for WUWF.org for trajectory maps and fishing limitations. Also go to Skytruth for an interesting proposal to conduct ongoing satellite surveillance of all our oil rigs from now into the future.

After hiking on Santa Rosa Island on Saturday and Sunday I developed a migraine which I have never had in my life. I wonder…that is a symptom of air pollution where oil has evaporated and benzene, toluene, methylbenzene, and xylene compounds are in the air. Pensacola as terrible water and air quality due to an eddying effect, similar to those seen in the Gulf offshore our barrier islands.

Oil Plumes Measured at 1140M Depth

This morning I checked into Skytruth.org to learn the extent of the oil plumes. A blog contributor took me to the Gulf Oil Blog of the U.S. Marine Sciences. There you can find results of sampling in suspected deepwater plumes of oil. The measure is called a CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter). Scientists measured above and below the plume then sampled from the middle of the plume. Above and below they found no organic matter but within the plume they got a strong reading and could see an oily residue left over on the filters. Skytruth is tracking the movement of oil plumes from the Maconda well and it appears to be moving in the loop current and toward the Florida straits.

Skytruth cautions that there are natural processes that can also create oil sheen on the surface. But when you go to the U.S. Marine Sciences site you learn to “trust your senses”. This spill, if as White House energy and environment adviser Carol Browner warned, goes on through August when relief wells will be in place to receive the oil, we could see lasting and extensive impact on marine ecosystems along the whole of the Gulf, Florida and perhaps even the Atlantic shorelines where the loop current turns north and runs up the eastern coast.

Take action to prevent this happening again.

Oil Spill Perspectives

Most of us have copious information about the oil spill (I think we can agree that GOBS MORE oil is spilling into the Gulf waters than we have been told by BP and by the EPA. Go to links on this blog for more accurate estimates).

The impacts are starting to show up in Louisiana and threatening Alabama and Florida. Things are not static this time of year with the tropical storm season and strong south easterly winds and thus currents. We can only guess what is happening to plankton and all the vulnerable life underneath the surface, out of site. It has to be devastating.

What has been growing in my mind is much greater than the stats on this spill, though important. What I am thinking about is how we make (or don’t get a chance to make) decisions about our technologies, even at the origin when inventors are “out there” thinking up stuff. Right now the values that underpin most of our biggest industries are based on providing a natural resource or product from it that has been evaluated to make a lot of money for its creators and sellers. Our principle is: if it can be made and make money, make it! Figure out later if it is harmful in which case the American citizen or the natural systems that support us will take the blows, and while down, have to wage a near impossible battle to bring the barons to court. Even then there is no certainty justice will be done.

What if there was much more thought on the front end of the process where we carefully consider the impacts on the health and well being of our people and all the wildlife and natural systems that produce health and wealth? And what if we did something revolutionary and base our decisions on a set of conditions that assures we don’t harm the Earth and thus ourselves since we are one community, interlinked?

Consider what Wendell Berry suggests are bad solutions to problems versus a good solution:

“A bad solution is bad because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them.” ~ p. 137 The Gift of Good Land

“A good solution is good, on the contrary, “because it is in harmony with those larger patterns.”

Good solutions:

  1. Accept given limits
  2. Accept the limits of discipline (i.e. agricultural problems are solved by agriculture not technology, etc.
  3. Improve the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern
  4. Solve more than one problem
  5. Will satisfy a whole range of criteria
  6. Embody a clear distinction between the biological and the mechanical
  7. Have wide margins
  8. Answer the question, “how much is enough?”
  9. Should be cheap and should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another
  10. Exist in proof
  11. Imitate the structure of natural systems
  12. Are good for all parts of a system
  13. Preserve the integrity and pattern that contains it
  14. Are in harmony with good character, cultural value, and moral law~ pp 141-145 Ibid

In 1970 during the oil crisis of that day, President Carter was laughed at for his efforts to develop energy independence by switching to alternatives such as wind, solar, and geothermal sources. What stopped all that effort, removed the electric car from the road?

Simply, greed. Could that be why we have an incredible 3500 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and 1500 miles of pipeline criss crossing the ocean floor in a hurricane prone zone. Follow the money and you will discover the reasons why we do most of what we do in America. Our bottom line is STILL profit. Preoccupation with the market and belief in it, which is a metaphysical movement unnamed as such, is driving us to the edge of environmental degradation after which no one can really predict outcomes – exactly where we are with this oil spill.

See the Lindbergh Foundation website. They support innovative research that establishes a healthy balance between technological development and preservation of the Earth’s ecosystems. Click on each of the funded scientists and educators whose work they are supporting to understand the concept that Wendall Berry was getting at. We need a lot more of this kind of thinking!

Read Barry Lopez to understand what it means to live connected to everything around us, our own nature knit tightly into the fabric of all the creation.

For a very thoughtful article by Joshua Reichert of PEW Environmental Group published in the Miami Herald, “The Future of Oil and Water.”

Passages and Oil Spills

While the Deep Water Horizon platform exploded and began to spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico, my loved one lay in the ICU suffering from post heart surgery from which she never recovered. She died on April 27 at 3:43 pm. I know because I was there with her, my other sister and her daughter. We were the ones who would escort my older sister to places beyond our reach. We navigated terrifying medical procedures, tubes, drains, trachs and vents, dialysis machines, and watched my sister’s body swell beyond belief, turn red and raw; we gently kissed the scabs and bruises on her arms and hands that crusted over or oozed with edema. On her last day of life the sheets were soaked from her body fluid oozing out of every pore. The machines peeped and winked; the vent breathed in and out from a taped area around my sweet sister’s neck. I wondered, Does it hurt, Bev? But she could not answer me, rendered speechless for a month, with only mouthing which we could not lipread and which toward the end was not even possible. I kept a piece of computer paper on which my brilliant, accomplished sister struggled to write a message but it is only scribbles that run eventually off the paper…

It has been one week now and she has been cremated and her remains await her family to scatter in her favorite places. We gave her a wonderful memorial at which her friends assembled and many from my family including my son and daughter. While together we held each up somewhat, when we separated I felt the vast pain and sadness that washed up against my chest like a sea pushing against pilings.

Meantime the oil continued to billow into the ocean waters of the Gulf which my sister loved, and it crept toward the crystal white beaches on which we sat watching a green translucent sea lap against the snow-white sand. Langdon Beach with brioche and coffee…our habit….

The Gulf is lying as she did, helpless to an approaching disaster, with concerned people all around whose efforts cannot prevent something set in motion that cannot be undone.  I walk the shores weeping for Bev as I weep for dolphins and schools of silver pompano and the microbial hordes whose haven, the waves, will soon be something like a wrath – innocent to the machinations of a misdirected culture.

Was the medical treatment of my sister also misdirected? Invasive, entirely without humanity, all numbers and organs and technology in the name of life.

Why can’t I help thinking my sister died an early death as the beaches on the Gulf will, too, from events so complex and indirectly applied as to cloud our perception?

Now I know what it is to feel totally helpless.

Failure Is Not An Option

 

The Apollo Moon Program took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface in 1969. During the third mission to land men on the moon (1970) an explosion left the Apollo crew in grave danger.

The story of Apollo 13 offers an important message for humankind as we face up to climate change: “Failure is not an option.”

These words were uttered by Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director, when he addressed the engineers and scientists responsible for returning the three crewmen to Earth under what appeared to be impossible circumstances and limitations.

As we learn more about the daunting task of reducing carbon emissions well below 1990 levels even while the world’s population grows exponentially, the challenge feels every bit as awesome as that faced by Krantz on that fateful mission.

Kranz advised his team to not be emotional but to “work the problem.” It seems to me that is good advice. We have to cut through the arguments and individual beliefs that each of us holds to create a sustainable human enterprise on Earth.

And like Apollo 13, the clock is ticking for us, too. Beyond a certain point we will not be able to reverse the physical adjustments of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans and of living communities most vulnerable to them.

So just how did these scientists and engineers “work the problem?” Well, to begin with they erased the previous flight plans and went back to the drawing board. Then, they looked at what was on hand that could be used in new ways to meet the needs of the moment: “We’ve got to take this square battery pack and make it fit into this round receptacle,” the engineer explained to his team.

And what were they attempting to solve? Chillingly for us, the crew was experiencing a lethal build-up of carbon dioxide on board their small craft, and the engineers were attempting to build a carbon scrubber with the stuff on board the spacecraft.

Cutting through all preconceptions, the team put their heads together and managed to build a new scrubber with a square end that fit into a round hole.

Without being simplistic, much of what we have to do to come together as communities, nations, and international bodies seems just like that: a square peg in a round hole. So far nothing fits very tight.

But here is a simple example of how a great accomplishment was achieved:

  • Work the problem, skip the rhetoric;
  • Gather what is on hand and if necessary use it in new ways that can get us the solutions we seek;
  • Failure is not an option – we do not have the luxury to try this another time, therefore our leaders, social institutions, and citizens must all come to the table with sobriety and willingness to think anew.

Apollo is the Greek god of reason, morality, and maintenance of society. Perhaps in our cultures these have not always been united. Just as the Apollo crew was buoyed by the worldwide prayers and hopes of people and nations, we could look at the human community, and all the living communities that keep us alive and happy, as a crew on an endangered spacecraft that we have got to bring home safely.

Let’s work that problem.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song

It’s a fair-weather day.

A battalion of brown pelicans coast overhead on dark arched wings. Children build sand castles and bob in the surf, and shorebirds rest in warm dunes—a feast of beauty and abundance.

Santa Rosa Island was named in homage to Isabel Flores de Oliva – the “Rose of Lima.” She was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1671 as Saint Rose.

Pensacola is rich in stories.

Take the story of Caretta caretta for example. She doesn’t even know we’ve tagged her with a dichotomous name to set her species apart from others. Her only inclination is to find a darkened shoreline and lay her burden down.

Buoyed by thick ocean waves she paddles with strong legs through the currents.

Through heavy lid, she looks toward shore and vaguely remembers its smell and warm, gritty touch. The moonlit shore is quiet as she takes purchase on the shifting sand below her.

She looks from just under the water along the beach head where bright lights in hotels and restaurants, homes and gas stations could make her decide to turn away. She looks for a darkened beach, lit only by the silver moonlight. It’s instinctual.

Every May through September along the Gulf shores, female loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) return to lay leathery eggs in the dunes of their birth.

Kemp’s Ridley, Atlantic green turtles and sometimes leatherbacks also use these crystal white beaches as a nursery. It’s been so for thousands of years.

Caretta caretta has spent her youth in the Sargasso Sea, a body of water created from currents in the North Atlantic and where Sargassum seaweed covers over its surface. It is believed the loggerhead turtle feeds and grows in this protective cover.

When she comes of age, dozens of eggs grow within her as she heads back to the same beach where as a hatchling she was just the size of a quarter and prize catch of shorebirds, crabs, and other beachside predators. She is one of the few lucky infant turtles that managed to survive to adulthood.

Now she returns to lay down the next generation. And, should she come ashore, will she struggle to navigate beach chairs, plastic inner tubes, or sandcastles?

What will happen to her offspring? Baby sea turtles are attracted to bright lights, an instinct that should turn them toward a moonlit sea. Will they head toward the hotel lights instead? Rangers report scores of tiny turtles destroyed by cars or desiccated in the hot sun among buildings.

In today’s world, with the human built environment, it takes countless volunteers to tend turtle nests, redirecting the young toward the ocean. Because of this, can we say that these species are self-sustaining?

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world today. Four of them lay their eggs here on Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Shores National Seashore. That constitutes a biological treasure for this region, a remaining strand of a once diverse web of life just off these shores.

What if Caretta caretta disappears due to human interference in this annual ritual that replenishes her kind? Should we really care?

Reach back 100 years in Pensacola history to an ocean teeming with life. Fish would be larger and more plentiful and you could scoop up shrimp in Escambia Bay with your hands. There would be hundreds more dunes with waving sea oats, both habitat and nursery to many species.

The loggerhead turtle is part of an ocean web that supports our fishing industry. The biodiversity of our beautiful islands is the basis of tourism, a principal industry. Somehow we have to learn to maintain this natural treasure while going about our business.

We are working that out now. There has got to be a way. Pensacoleans have never been short on ingenuity.

For Caretta caretta we can turn down the lights, sit out on our decks and listen to the oncoming waves. We’ll save money by reducing energy consumption and get a better view of the heavens. Let’s face it: life would be dismal without the beauty of nature.

When we see a dolphin breach the waves, white terns dive and soar, or listen to ocean breezes, we are renewed and encouraged that all is right on this exquisite planet we are so fortunate to share with other species.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song. It’s a symphony.