The Gulf Oil Spill
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill 2010
On April 20, 2010 the drilling platform on the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 workers and two days later sending the rig to a watery grave below 5,000 feet of water. The tragedy that occurred aboard the Deepwater Horizon doesn’t stop with the lives lost. It continues beyond the Horizon’s own collapse, beyond the 50 miles to the Louisiana coast. The tragedy is one that is now looming on the lines of epic proportions. Two weeks after the explosion the well continues to leak oil into the Gulf of Mexico and at this point the nearest end in sight is still a week away.
In 1989 the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. For weeks and months the major news stations aired stories about the ecosystems that were affected, the wildlife that was killed or injured, the clean-up efforts. We all know it took years for the Alaskan ecosystems to become fully restored, if one can even say that are now. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was a tragedy that affected the entire world, but it was one that was relatively easily contained, considering what the Gulf coast states now face.
The scary thing about the Gulf oil spill is that it’s not coming out of a tanker, it’s not coming from a source that will run dry sooner than later. Eventually it will run dry, but an anonymous BP official has stated there are tens of millions of barrels of oil in the pocket in which they were drilling. Think about that for a minute. Tens of millions of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, onto the white beaches of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas turning them black and brown, spilling into the waterways and inlets that provide the hatcheries for redfish, shrimp, oysters, trout, snook and many other species of marine life. It’s easy to say that the ecosystems will be harmed and countless animals lost. That’s true, but the broader and more frightening picture is the crippling effect this oil spill will have on all the industries that rely on those ecosystems.
Appalachicola is a fishing town on Florida’s panhandle. Though it’s gaining in popularity now for recreational fishing, the little town has primarily been one that makes a living on oysters. The bootheel of Louisiana lives on the harvesting of Gulf shrimp and recreational fishing of seatrout and redfish. Gulfport, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida are huge vacation spots for families. Steinhatchee and Cedar Key, Florida are big recreational fishing spots, and Cedar Key draws people from all over the state for fabulous sunsets, shrimp and scallops. Go a little further south along Florida’s Gulf coast and the primary industry becomes tourism. Places like Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Venice Beach, Marco Island and Sanibel survive because of their pristine beaches. Besides the beaches recreational fishing, sport fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling, and shrimping will feel huge losses when the oil slick reaches these places.
Animals and Ecosystems Suffer
The question now isn’t if but when. There’s no doubt that some part of the slick will affect the majority, if not all, of the Gulf coast states. Tourism, commercial fishing and recreational fishing are each multi-billion industries that will suffer catastrophic losses. Fishermen in Louisiana are already lined up in their boats, booms at the ready to deploy along the mouths of Louisiana’s fragile inlets, an attempt to save the ecosystems that provide these fishermen and their families with a living. Fishermen in Mississippi are ready to do the same. Kayakers from Florida have traveled to Louisiana to help in the clean-up efforts. Millions of people’s livelihoods are at stake, and the longer it takes BP to cut off the flow of oil into the Gulf the worse the damage will be. Clean-up of animals and the return of ecosystems will take decades or more.
The only shining light right now is that people WILL work together to save the very marine life that supports them. They will work together to clean up every drop of spilled oil. They will bring every ounce of humanity that they have and work hard to put their lives back together, as individuals, as communities, and as industries. This world has a remarkable way of bouncing back from the ugliest scars. There’s no doubt the Gulf coast will bounce back from this one. The questions that will remain are, how long will it take to recover and what have we learned from this mess?