Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 2010: Serious meanderings--Oil kills everything....

"Oil kills everything." These are the words of Jean-Michel Cousteau. It is a serious and dangerous situation we are facing along the shorelines from Texas to Florida. The accident at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig has taken human life, and if projections continue as they are now, we are in more danger than most people can imagine. All of the marine life, and animals that live along the coastal areas, and eventually all of us, will be in serious, even mortal, danger....

I grew up watching Jean-Michel's father, Jacques, explore our oceans. He is one of the reasons that I got my diving certification many years ago. There is nothing more mesmerizing than floating among a school of colorful fish as they cascade around you under the serene crystal clear environment in the water. And nothing is as heart-breaking as knowing that this beautiful life in the Gulf and our oceans are being devastated by such an avoidable disaster.

Watch a YouTube video made by the Cousteau team at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Jean-Michel was at Valdez after it struck the coast of Alaska. He says that this oil leak is eight times worse than Valdez....that it will last for decades, and that in truth, the oil from the Valdez is still present in the waters there.

Sadly, one of the reasons that this oil leak is so destructive is because it is now the breeding or spawning season for hundreds, even thousands, of species that call the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding estuaries and coastlines home. It is the breeding season for big marine life, including the Blue Fin Tuna, Blue Whales, endangered Sperm Whales, and many other species of whales. For a list of protected species that call the Gulf home, visit NOAA.

The endangered Kemp's Ridley Turtle was one of the first casualities, but endangered Hawksbill, Leatherback and Loggerghead turtles, as well as threatened Green turtles also live in the Gulf. Nine species of dolphins live in the waters, including Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted and Risso's dolphins. Imagine looking out over the once-blue waters and not seeing a dolphin because they have all been killed by toxic oil!

It is also spawning season for endangered Nassau Grouper and Speckled Hind Grouper, and many smaller species of fish. It is nesting season for Least Terns, Northern Gannets, Magnificient Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans....all of which nest along the shore and estuaries.

In the article by Scientific American, "Oil in Gulf Spells Disaster for Young Birds as Breeding Season Unfolds," Jan Dubuisson of the Gulfport, Mississippi Audubon Chapter talks about the rehabilitation efforts needed to help these birds survive. This is a photo from the slide show of a Northern Gannet, whose white feathers have been coated with oil from the Deepwater leak.
I did wildlife rehabilitation for nearly ten years a long time ago, and I can tell you that this is a traumatic experience for the animals, but that without help, they will die from the toxins.
So far, "...24 birds have been rescued from the Gulf of Mexico waters around oil-spill containment ships or on beaches, where volunteers and experts are on the lookout....The birds rescued so far include Northern Gannets, Pelicans, a Sora, a Magnificient Frigatebird, and Laughing Gulls, along with a handful of unexpected species [such as] rock doves and a cattle egret that are not generally expected to come into contact with the oil," Dubuisson said.

You may be wondering why we should care about species that we don't eat or use in some way (I am refraining from using the word "exploit" here, but I am biting my tongue). Even if we don't use them in some way, the animals that people eat also have to eat to survive: all those bottom dwellers, filter feeders (oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, etc.), small fish and plankton are the base of the food web. Some people seem to think if the oil sinks to the bottom, all will be fine. We won't see it, they think....but it will suffocate everything that lives on the bottom (if it hasn't already been killed by long-line fishing or drag netting). And everything that lives on the bottom feeds the next layer on the food web, which feeds the next layer, and so on...until it reaches the tuna and other species that many people eat....

The eggs of the spawning marine life will suffocate, and any of the surviving offspring (called fry when very young and fingerlings later) will suffocate in the "dispersed" oil. You may think that they will be able to swim 'away'...a fry or fingerling is so small that they can't swim 'away' from a disaster of this magnitude....2500 square miles of oil and increasing daily.

We need to realize that there is NO 'AWAY' here....we live in a delicately balanced terrarium on this planet. There is no 'away' for our refuse, no 'away' for our disasters, no 'away' from anything.
Everything we do affects the entire globe, whether economically or environmentally.
Consider that 95% of the US fishing industry is based in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf and the ocean are Florida's livelihood, whether via vacationing tourists who come here to dive, fish, bird, or sail....or via the people who work in those recreational and vacation businesses. I haven't mentioned the coral reefs and the estuaries! Florida Bay is already endangered because our past and current rape of the Everglades water flow....

It is very fortunate indeed that the BioBlitz at Biscayne National Park took place before this happened. We now have baseline data that will help scientists monitor the changes should this leak creep up the east coast and into the Gulf Stream. Audubon has been counting bird populations for a hundred years, so we know the status of our bird populations (here and worldwide). Any many other smaller groups have been doing the same for other species (herps, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies...in moments of despair, I think that at least future generations will have a detailed record of what we have destroyed in the last few hundred years!)

But you can do things to help! Particpate in one of these Citizen Science projects. We need people to go out and monitor beach nesting birds, count butterflies and help scientists monitor potential problems before they get out of hand.

Urge legislation to BAN OFF-SHORE DRILLING, and encourage alternative energy production. (Solar is the way to go...wind vanes kill birds by the millions, and coal is NOT clean, no matter what is done to it...it is toxic, polluting and devastating. I have seen firsthand the damage here and in Ecuador.)

Email President Obama and Governor Crist, and our senators and congressmen, including your county commissioners!

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BIRDS (and other animals) that get caught in oil taken from the Boston Globe....Warning: this will break your heart. I am posting so that you and others really understand what is happening to these innocent creatures. I worked in wildlife rehabiltation and in an emergency vet hospital for many years. Many of these creatures will die before they get help, and some will die from the trauma of the rescue....

If you have wildlife experience, get HAZMAT 3 training to help with oil response. If you want to volunteer, get HAZMAT 2 training. It is free and available locally through efforts coordinated with the Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale, and the National Humane Society (contact Debbie Drake). I know that there are not enough classes offered and that the notice may be too short for many (Although I missed it on the west coast because I found out about it on the day it was offered and I was working; I just found out about the virtual training below!)

VIRTUAL TRAINING is now available through BP's website. Take the courses online and print out your certification to help hands-on as a volunteer or rehabilitator.

If you can't take HAZMAT training, there are other ways to help. Audubon chapters are collecting towels and other necessary clean-up items, especially Dawn dishwashing liquid (the original brand only).

Hair booms don't work well, as reported by MSNC News and CBS News --it doesn't work as well as touted (it sinks to the bottom when it gets water-logged); so I stand corrected on that attempt to pass along helpful information. DON'T send any more hair to a Matter of Trust , which was collecting hair for that purpose.

For current news about the leak and how to help, contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

And visit Global Coherence Initiative in your prayers and meditations to the planet, people and animals. We need spiritual energy as much as we need physical help in this emergency....

The good news is that I'll be moving back to Miami next month :-)

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