Friday, April 30, 2010

Beach Perspectives on the Oil Spill Catastrophe

So far as we can see today, the only oil leak booms on Pensacola Beach are floating near the southwestern shoreline of Little Sabine Bay (click here or on the above photo). We can't be sure whether they were put in place anticipating the massive BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill reaching here, or are serving another purpose.

A New Orleans reporter, by the suitably sonorous name of Cain Burdeau, early this morning filed a report about the 'river of oil' bearing down on Louisiana today. ["Some Oil Begins to Ooze Ashore"]. Along the way, he mentions the marine weather forecast and how it impacts the delta:
The National Weather Service predicted winds, high tides and waves through Sunday that could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds and lakes that line the boot of southeast Louisiana. Seas of 6 to 7 feet were pushing tides several feet above normal toward the coast, compounded by thunderstorms expected in the area Friday.
* * *
Crews are unable to skim oil from the surface or burn it off for the next couple of days because of the weathe
r, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Waves may also wash over booms strung out just off shorelines to stop the oil, said Tom McKenzie, a spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is hoping booms will keep oil off the Chandeleur Islands, part of a national wildlife refuge.

That same wind, for now at least, also is pushing the oil somewhat away from Pensacola Beach. Click here or on the photo to the left and you can see the familiar flag at Fort Pickens. At mid-day, a moderately strong southeast breeze was whipping it generally northwestward.

A number of beach residents we spoke with this morning are surprisingly sanguine about the oil spill. "I don't think it will reach us," one friend told us. "The winds are keeping it away," another said, "but I really feel for Louisiana."

Out at the westernmost point of Santa Rosa Island, beyond the point where Union-held Fort Pickens stares sternly northward toward the Confederate mainland, a handful of vacationers and locals are enjoying a cloudy but mild day at the beach, sheltered from the southeast breeze by the fort's old seawall (see below right).

Not everyone with a connection to the beach is as confident as the residents we spoke with. Last evening, we found ourselves in Gulf Breeze at a well known recreation center. In a corner near the entrance, a television reporter was announcing the latest alarming oil-leak news. A trim tennis player who looked to be in his in early 40's shook his head disgustedly and turned away muttering, "Looks like I'll never sell another house on Pensacola Beach."

The truth is, although Louisiana is not quite two hundred miles west of Pensacola Beach, we will be deeply affected -- and for a very long time -- by the BP oil spill, whether the tar balls reach us soon or never. So, indeed, will be the rest of the nation.

Louisiana's delta is the spawning ground for shore birds, sea life creatures of every description -- and countless plant and insect species upon which they depend. Millions of Americans depend upon all of that for their livelihood. Their misfortune can only worsen the national jobless recession.

Moreover, the entire nation depends upon the unique Louisiana wetlands to put food on the family table. Losing half the world's blue fin tuna, and a very high percentage of other sea-life dependent food sources, will be a severe blow to the overall economy.

As the Pensacola Journal perceptively editorializes today, "risk is not just the calculated numerical possibility of such an accident happening." Nor, we might add, is it measured, like hurricanes so often are, by whether it happens to hit us right here.

It is the calculated possibility of such an event happening — multiplied by the extent of the damage that could result if the event did occur. That's the risk we should focus on.

And when the potential extent of the damage is unacceptable? It should be clear that the risk is unacceptable.
What makes the BP oil spill so much more catastrophic than almost any other disaster you can conceive is the "potential extent of the damage." That "extent" reaches well beyond Louisiana -- and Pensacola Beach, for that matter. It will have a severe impact on the entire nation.

As McClatchy News reports --
Oil from a ruptured drilling rig could harm all kinds of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic tarpon and bluefin tuna that have key spawning areas nearby to endangered sea turtles, commercial fisheries, migrating song birds and marine mammals.
Bluefin tuna, tarpon, red snapper, dolphins, sea turtles, shrimp, oysters, shore birds -- merely to glance at the top of a long list of wildlife life about to be extinguished -- do not respect state boundaries. They occupy and depend upon a healthy ecology that does not stop at the water's edge of the Chandeleur Islands, or Santa Rosa Island for that matter. Nor more so than the shrimp you buy in the grocery store or the shore birds that are nesting this year on Pensacola Beach.

All Americans will be deeply and directly affected by the BP oil spill, however far the oil itself may or may not reach, and whatever state's shorelines it may or may not pollute.
minor edit 4-30 pm


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article. I live in this area and am glad to see there are at least a few other people who aren't completely delusional about the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history that will decimate fishing, tourism and the housing market here for decades and decades and decades to come. The oil is already deep in the ocean miles down (see ABC clip with Philippe Cousteau diving into oil and dispersant) that the wind is keeping the slick away completely misses the point. But people will be hopeful, willing sacrificing reason and succumbing to delusion along the way. What is the cost of this hope? The fact that since everyone is so hopeful no one is doing anything significant to improve the situation (and a $10m PR campaign isn't helping save Florida's beaches and wildlife...somehow the governor has confused television with reality).

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