“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

"Everybody dies. Not everybody really lives."

The saddest sound in the world is a man saying, "I wish I'd have done that."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The BP Spill Hits Alabama Beaches

We trekked down to Fort Morgan Peninsula to see first hand if CNN’s dire reports from the beaches were media hype. Unfortunately, the reality is even worse than the televised reports. Alabama’s beaches are just beginning to suffer from the BP oil spill but even at this early stage—when the oil is just starting to trickle onto the white sands—the enormity of what is happening in the Gulf is sad and depressing.

Fort Morgan’s beaches are awash with tar balls; black, viscous invaders that range from pea size to grape size, some the size of poker chips. Periodically there are large patches of thick gooey oil, the size of a living room, ugly and smelly. The white sand is stained, caramel colored, up to the surf line and a lacey fringe of coffee-colored foam marks the apex of each incoming wave.

In the midst of the mess we stumble upon a disaster recovery crew, under contract to BP according to the workers. They are cleaning up tar balls on the beach. With the miles of beaches that are damaged, it seems like emptying a 55 gallon drum with a teaspoon—and yeah, I know, enough teaspoons will eventually empty the drum--but I am dumbfounded that rakes and garbage bags are our best response to this disaster. With all of America’s technology this is the best we can do? Seems like a remarkably Third World solution to a First World problem. And the next day the tide brings in more tar to cover the very area just cleaned.

The water itself is oily, mixed into a frothy emulsion by the pounding surf from Hurricane Alex. A few orange booms bob in the surf, each incoming wave barely impeded in its advance as it washes over the top of the boom. I reach in the surf and pull back a slippery, oil-stained hand. Pelicans are diving into the water offshore and I wonder how often they can make those dives before their feathers are impregnated with petroleum, their gullets full of poison. How much oil can they consume before it’s too much?  The oil here is not the thick and gooey mess that accumulates in teh marshes so these birds will not show up in one of the rehab facilities.  They'll probably slowly ingest enough oil that eventually they sicken and die somewhere out at sea or in the dunes, forgotten and uncounted.

That beautiful comforting fragrance of the ocean, a mix of salt air and fish, is masked by a strong industrial odor—the kind that makes you wrinkle your nose when you drive by a refinery.

The wildlife will suffer, no doubt about it. The sandpipers and willets that normally scurry before the incoming surf are noticeably absent. We don’t see any dolphins, unusual enough that we remark on it, we almost always see them swimming and hunting near offshore. Sea turtles will have to swim through the mess to lay their eggs on the beach and then what? The plan is to remove the eggs to a hatchery on the Atlantic coast, a desperate measure with an unknown outcome.

A disaster, no doubt about it. But how bad? From my perspective the efforts of BP seem more of a PR effort than anything that is really having any effect. I can’t see anything other than a massive die off of marine creatures, the base of the food chain that feeds the birds, turtles, dolphins and fish going first, followed by the rest.

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