Sunday, June 06, 2010

Tumorous Tarballs: June 6 Sunday BP Oil Spill Update

1. Western Panhandle.

Yesterday, the oil of doom reached Okaloosa Island, in Ft. Walton Beach. It's official: the entire 40-mile length of Santa Rosa Island, the second longest contiguous barrier island in the world, has now been thoroughly infected with BP's oil.

NOAA's oil-cast for the coming few days (above) shows the leading edge of the oil spill reaching all the way to Freeport. Panama City cannot be far behind, along with St. George's Island, Apalachicola's famed oyster beds, and soon Cedar Key.

2. Historical Endings.

These are all areas with sensitive wetlands, estuaries, and bayous. They have been one of planet Earth's major cradles of sea life for as long as Santa Rosa Island has been around, about five thousand years.
3. Tarball Tumors.

BP's massive oil spill invites the cancer metaphor. It's like an aggressive cancer, insidiously invading the body of Florida's panhandle.

The first signs are seemingly so benign, as we saw Friday; just tiny little orange droplets, easily overlooked. Not even enough to discourage swimmers or surfers.

Kimberly Blair's superior news report in today's PNJ captures the sense of it:
For the most part, beachgoers on Pensacola Beach seemed oblivious of various-sized tar balls washing up around them. They sat in chairs and spread out beach towels on top of the tar balls dotting the high-tide line and hiding in clumps of seaweed.

And parents didn't seem to mind their children playing and swimming near tar balls on the beach and in the surf.
Kevin Rhodes, 37, of Piedmont, Okla., helped his son, Carter, 2, dump buckets of sand into a big pile on the surf's edge, just inches from tar balls."I'm not concerned about them," he said.
Everything seems normal. Beach life goes on:
After a swim at Casino Beach, Brittanie Heuremann washed off her baby daughter, Paislie, in the public showers.

"It's nice out there," she said. "We're visiting from Houston. We were surprised to hear about tar balls here. But we didn't see any."

Then comes the shock and surprise, like suddenly discovering an unfamiliar lump on the body:

[O]ne of her family members, Heather Burkes, yelled out, "What's that?" when she discovered a quarter-sized spot of oil on her leg.
And the terror:
At the same time, a group of women ran to the sand near the showers and began grinding their feet in the sand trying to rub the tar balls off their feet.

Farther to the east, in front of the Hampton Inn, Darcy Roberston of Gulf Breeze pushed silver-dollar-sized blobs of oil around to make a smiley face in the sand. Then she lifted her foot to show the tar ball was stuck on her
Before you know it, the toxic oil slick and tumorous tarballs are spreading everywhere:
Like so many people, Emily Keith of Hattiesburg, Miss., wanted to enjoy Pensacola Beach one more time today before more oil spoiled the beach.

"I came out at 8 a.m. and saw an oil mat that looked like a chocolate-pudding pancake," she said while relaxing on a beach lounger behind the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. "I came back at 11 a.m. and it, and other tar balls, were still here. "About 1 p.m., two or three cleanup teams swept through. They were wearing hazmat suits, heavy gloves and boots.
The cancer has spread so fast and so far that it overwhelms all remedies. No amount of healing efforts can stop it.
They just scooped it up and threw it in a trash bag. But they were passing up many other tar balls."

About a dozen bags with tar balls sat in a pile behind her waiting to be picked up
A quick cure is impossible:
[I]n what is expected to become the norm on the beach for some time, more tar balls continued washing in from the Gulf.
You know now that you are very, very sick. If survival is even possible, it will require painful, expensive treatments over a very long time. And all the while, there will be that temptation to deny it is happening to you:
He looked out over the Gulf and said, "I think the worse is yet to come. I don't want to believe it, though."
4. Healing the Gulf.

As with some cancers, perhaps time and extraordinary efforts eventually will heal the island. Certainly it will take at least decades, judging by the much smaller Exxon Valdez oil spill. For the sea life and wildlife of the Gulf coast, the answer is scientists just don't know. How much longer will it take to see the newly discovered coral reefs restored? The wetlands and bayous?

An even bigger question is whether this been a sufficient wake-up call for us to effectively address, at last, mankind's other great assault against nature, the rising sea levels due to global climate change? Even as the oil spill continues, the evidence mounts that the entire globe is warming, sea levels are rising, and the oceans are experiencing a diminished capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.

It's worth remembering the same "drill, baby, drill" personalities told us imminent climate change was a "myth" and mankind had nothing to do with it. If the BP oil spill does nothing else that's good, at least we can hope that, like a bad pap smear, it will shut up the deniers of reality who are so handsomely paid by oil companies and let us get on with healing the whole planet -- before the seas around Florida rise another six feet meters.

metric edit 6-06 pm

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