Field Update from the Front Lines of the Oil Disaster

Guest blog by Linda Young, Director of the Clean Water Network of Florida

tarballs_orangebeachalAs I sit here typing, wave after wave of oil is washing ashore in Orange Beach, AL and there is not one skimmer boat in sight. Senator Bill Nelson (FL) has said that the Coast Guard command and control operations are not working and that he had no idea if there were any skimmer boats available to help deal with the disastrous mess that is still-unfolding. Fortunately, the Dutch government is sending their skimmer boats to us but they will not arrive until next month. The Dutch keep boats and booms on hand in case of an accident. Isn’t that a novel idea?

The oil came into Pensacola Pass on Sunday and has been found in grapefruit-sized globs all the way to the Pensacola Beach bridge.  Oil litters the shores along the EPA lab just west of the bridge. A scientist who works at the lab reported that they have a little string of boom along their shore and that waves are crashing right over it.  You would think that the EPA could muster up a little bit better protection for their own real-estate.

We are told that we can expect to have oil washing ashore for at least the next few days, if not weeks. There is a huge island of oil right offshore, about 40 miles long and almost 2 miles wide and at least a foot thick that is rolling our way.

heavyequipment

Sen. Nelson has been very critical of the command and control structure for the oil disaster. The Coast Guard has had 51% of the control (BP has the rest) and they have been essentially dysfunctional. The situation reached crisis level last week when the oil entered Perdido Pass and NOT ONE of the local governments were given any warning. This means that the Coast Guard was not even watching the oil from helicopters and reporting its proximity to shore.

It is taking an incredible amount of time for local governments to get the help and answers that they need.  After 7 weeks, Escambia County in Florida has finally received the heavy equipment that it requested from BP, which will be used to clean up the oil once it hits the shore.  An upper-level Escambia County administrator told me that the county has not received a single penny from the state or federal government or BP to date to pay for protecting their shores or waters or to cover the cost of dealing with this disaster. He told the reporters that the rest of the state still has time to get ready before the oil reaches their shores and they should get ready.

If you are reading this blogpost and you live beyond the panhandle in the Gulf, please urge your local government take action!

The big unknown right now is what lies below the surface of the ocean. We know from  University of South Florida research that there are large plumes under the surface of the water which are moving far and wide. Interestingly, the oil tends to float in the day time when it’s warm outside and then at night it tends to sink to the bottom.

navarrepierYesterday I went out on the Navarre Beach pier and it was teaming with marine life. I don’t know if all the animals are being pushed this way to avoid the oil or if they were excited about the new, longest pier in Florida.  In one hour I saw at least a dozen dolphins, a huge sea turtle, hundreds of thousands of fish, an enormous manta-ray, several barracudas, and lots of big fish being caught (mackerel, etc).

It was heart-warming to see all that sea life and also extremely troubling to think that they could soon all be dead when the waves of oil inevitably spread here. I got into the Gulf myself and swam for about an hour and nothing bad happened to me (so far). I was concerned that there could be dispersants in the water, but didn’t detect anything. I’m not planning to go back in anytime soon, but I wanted to go swimming in the Gulf at least one more time.

Normally, this time of year, I would be swimming in the Gulf every day after work and on weekends, and I miss that. However, this is not about me. An incredible ecosystem is being destroyed and I don’t know what the chances for recovery may be.

In closing, if you live in a coastal county of Florida – PLEASE URGE YOUR LOCAL GOVERNMENT GET PREPARED FOR THE OIL. It will very likely be on your beach sooner or later.

For all of our waters,
Linda Young

Linda Young is the Director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, a coalition of more than 300 groups that are committed to full implementation, enforcement and strengthening of the Clean Water Act and other safeguards of our water resources.

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