The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

I just completed a weekend visit to Alabama and Mississippi for appearances at Academy Sports + Outdoors and Hibbet Sports. While I was there I had a chance to talk with many people about the impact of the Gulf oil spill. When you visit the affected area it means much more than seeing the tragedy on TV from fifteen hundred miles away, so I considered it time to comment on the incident.
There has been such a widespread condemnation of the responsible party BP that I am not going to add to that, only to say the whole episode exposes man’s unpreparedness for such events. We are so quick to exploit both living and mineral resources without putting in place the necessary conservation or mitigating processes. There has been widespread commercial overexploitation of fish and shellfish in the gulf (bluefin tuna, redfish, red snapper, shrimp with consequent by-catch mortality) and extensive deep water oil drilling apparently without adequate procedures in place on site or along the coast to prevent accidents of this caliber and keep the oil from coming ashore.

Already 2010 has seen devastating earthquakes, massive flooding, destructive typhoons, huge tornadoes, and now we are adding to this destructive scenario. In addition we at the beginning of what may be an active Atlantic hurricane season.

Sure, oil has been extracted from the gulf for over fifty years. Most of it safely except for some small incidents here and there which seem acceptable to the industry. I am reminded that there are oil spills all around the world where drilling takes place but not on this level. The last major catastrophe was in 1979 in the Bay of Campeche (southern GoM) when the oil flowed for nearly three hundred days following an oil rig explosion. People have forgotten about that one. It was not well publicized and certainly did not have live underwater video of the tens of barrels of oil per second spewing from the broken well on our TV 24/7.

Experts say it could take a couple more months before the problem is solved. In that time the public will become accustomed to the bad news, and watch something else. Certainly Haiti does not come up on the news any more. But for the wildlife affected and for the people whose livelihood is severely interrupted, this event is as bad as a Cat 5 hurricane, an 8.0 earthquake or a terrible tornado.

The longer the oil flows, the more wildlife will be affected. Given the slow circulation of the gulf, the oil and dispersants are already killing off untold numbers of planktonic animals, fish eggs, larvae and juvenile fish which affect recruitment of these species for the next couple of years. While BP will be responsible for the clean-up of oil that reaches shore and reimbursing the affected fisherman and efforts have already begun to clean oil-covered birds, there has been little public concern for species found below the water surface. The bluefin tuna particularly comes to mind as their spawning ground is affected by the spill. This species is already severely overexploited, and this will definitely affect the survivability of the species in the western Atlantic. While the adults of all pelagic species can avoid the oil, the juvenile stages cannot. Neither can air-breathing turtles, sea birds and mammals that have to interact with the surface.

Movement of surface oil and suspended oil droplets is likely to happen with slow passage out of the gulf then accelerating with the gulfstream proceeding to Cuba, Florida and the US east coast further north. The effects will be widespread as has been projected. In the mean time over several years the remaining mass of oil will be slowly eroded through evaporation and breakdown by bacteria.

Our dependence on oil has to end at some point, the sooner the better. This accident is a very appropriate reminder that we need to turn to alternative, renewable energy sources as soon as possible. Sun, wind, hydrogen are all available and the technology exists to make meaningful changes over the next ten to twenty years.

Of course the oil companies don’t want to see this happen. This business is SO profitable they are going to protect it indefinitely. However while they are still in business, this event may encourage them to spend more money providing grants to gulf coast universities to assist in upgrading the scientific research work and improving our knowledge of the coastal wildlife ecosystems, nearshore marine and oceanic marine systems.

So how can we the public, living outside of the affected area, help? We can contribute time and dollars to the clean up process. This ecological disaster cannot be cleaned up by BP, even though they say they are going to pay for it. The effects of the spill are going to be with us for a long time. I am contributing time to do new designs printed by AFTCO to be sold through our dealers with proceeds benefiting suitable organizations on the ground who need assistance in getting the clean-up accomplished (in the same way following 9/11, I generated new designs the proceeds of which benefitted firemen and sniffer dogs in the New York area).

It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet. In the mean time, dive safely and fish responsibly.


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