The Ghost In The Water

A powerful look at how Gulf Coast communities are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, and the oil–the “ghost in the water”–which continues to haunt their lives.

The nation’s attention and the media spotlight have moved on. But the hidden costs of this inevitable unintended consequence or our reliance on oil will keep piling up for decades. This is just part of the real price of oil and gas, the price that no political leader is willing to admit or apply at the pump.

Killing (And Maiming) Dophins

PHOTO COURTESY INSTITUTE FOR MARINE MAMMAL STUDIESA dolphin was found dead by IMMS on the shores of Ship Island with a mutilated jaw.
All photos via Sun Herald. 

Sometimes you just have to wonder at how sick and twisted the human psyche can get.

Case in point: Dead and mutilated dolphins are turning up on the Gulf coast, some shot and some with parts cut off.

Here’s a report from the Sun-Herald:

Somebody is maiming and killing dolphins.

On Friday, a team from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport found a dolphin on Ship Island with its lower jaw missing.

Last weekend, IMMS responded to a dead dolphin found along the Ocean Springs/Gautier coastline with a 9mm bullet wound. “It went through the abdomen, into the kidneys and killed it,” said Moby Solangi, IMMS executive director.

In Louisiana, a dolphin was found with its tail cut off.

“Animals don’t eat each other’s tails off,” Solangi said.

“We think there’s someone or some group on a rampage,” he said. “They not only kill them but also mutilate them.”

IMMS investigated the first dolphin shooting earlier this year and incidents have increased in the past few months. In Alabama, someone stabbed and killed a dolphin with a screwdriver, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release. In September, a dolphin was found on Elmer’s Island, La., with a bullet in its lung. Others have been mutilated with knife-like lesions.

Turns out that this has been going on for a while now, this year. I can’t pretend to understand what motivates anyone to do such things, any more than I can pretend to understand so much of the violence humans inflict on each other and the rest of the world.

COURTESY INSTITUTE FOR MARINE MAMMAL STUDIESA dolphin found off the shore of Belle Fontaine Beach in Jackson County on Nov. 9 died from a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

But I hope they catch someone and prosecute to the full extent, which could include a fine of up to $100,000 and a year in jail. One important point made by NOAA about this dolphin killing spree is that feeding wild dolphins–which happens all too often–encourages dolphins to approach boats, which either makes them more vulnerable to maniacs with guns, or can led to conflict with fishermen if the dolphins go after their catch.

More pictures, if you can stand it, in this Sun Herald gallery.

 

BP Macondo Well Leaking Again?

Man Of War In Oil Slick
Carol Guzy/THE WASHINGTON POST – Oil surrounds a surfacing Portuguese man-of-war in the waters near South Pass, La. The Deepwater Horizon spill has taken an emotional toll on many people, with some describing the damage in the Gulf of Mexico as a “sacred loss” of fragile environments and endangered species.

Uh-oh. This isn’t good. From the Washington Post:

The oil in a slick detected in the Gulf of Mexico last month matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill two years ago, the Coast Guard said Wednesday night, ending one mystery and creating another.

“The exact source of the oil is unclear at this time but could be residual oil associated with the wreckage or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard added that “the sheen is not feasible to recover and does not pose a risk to the shoreline.” One government expert said the thin sheen, just microns thick, was 3 miles by 300 yards on Wednesday.

Some oil drilling experts said it was unlikely that BP’s Macondo well, which suffered a blowout on April 20, 2010, was leaking again given the extra precautions taken when it was finally sealed after spilling nearly 5 million barrels of crude into the gulf.

BP declined to comment. But a BP internal slide presentation said the new oil sheen probably came from the riser, a long piece of pipe that had connected the drilling rig to the well a mile below the sea surface.

The presentation said that “the size and persistence of this slick, the persistent location of the oil slick origin point, the chemistry of the samples taken from the slick … suggest that the likely source of the slick is a leak of Macondo … oil mixed with drilling mud that had been trapped in the riser of the Deepwater Horizon rig.”

It’s hard to feel confident that we will ever really understand the true impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

BP Oil Spill: Start Worrying About Whale Sharks

We can see the oil-coated pelicans, the tar-balled beaches, and the dead marine mammals that wash up. But its a lot harder to know what is going on beneath the surface. And Pete Thomas sounds a warning over what might be happening to one of the oceans’ gentlest and most beguiling beasts: the whale shark.

Here is what Pete says:

Now it’s feared that another of nature’s iconic marine creatures — the whale shark, which is the world’s largest fish — will soon be included on a checklist of spill victims long enough to fill afield guide.

Sylvia Earle, an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic, agreed with the assessment that many of the more than 100 whale sharks she and other scientists encountered recently during an expedition 70 miles off Louisiana might be “on death row” because much of their historic feeding habitat is closer to shore, within the spill zone.

Whale sharks, long-distance travelers that can measure 40 feet, were once harvested globally. They’re classified as “vulnerable,” one step up from “endangered” on a red list published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Little is known about migration patterns of whale sharks that utilize the Gulf of Mexico. But some are believed to help support recreational diving industries off Belize and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

What is known is that these gentle giants are filter-feeders who spend much of their time skimming for plankton and small fishes at or near the surface. Unfortunately, this is where spilled oil tends to gather, so the future looks bleak for whale sharks unable to steer clear of now-tarnished areas, such as the Mississippi River Delta, in which they’ve feed for perhaps millions of years.

Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, a scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, says at least five whale sharks have been spotted within 20 miles of the spill area. The number might be much greater were it not for boating and fishing restrictions that have limited the number of people who typically report such sightings.

I’m always amazed at how little we really know about some of the planet’s most impressive creatures, and critical ecosystems. Which only makes me wonder at the unintended damage we busy, busy humans do to them as we pursue our busy little lives.

When we will start pricing those externalities, those consequences, into oil, our economies, and the avalanche of consumer goods no one seems to be able contemplate doing without? When will we all step back and live lives that see the whole planet instead of just the things that affect our comfort and well-being? Probably never?

Here’s a video to make you think about that:

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Calling Jacques Cousteau

With BP oil flooding the Gulf of Mexico, and young Cousteaus flooding the cable news airwaves, I was glad to see Wired honoring Jacques’ one hundredth birthday anniversary with a mini-video retrospective.

Cousteau opened up the undersea world to generations of otherwise indifferent humans. And the degree of outrage we see today over BP is in no small part thanks to the awareness of the beauty and magnificence of the universe that exists beneath the surface of our oceans.

I wonder what Jacques would be doing and saying if he were still alive today?
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Jacques Cousteau: The Fathoms Deep“, posted with vodpod
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The Power Of Video Is Turned On BP’s Tony Hayward

If you had any doubts about the mismatch between BP CEO Tony Hayward‘s words and the reality of what is going on in the Gulf Of Mexico, the NRDC has made this video to set you straight. Sure, it uses pictures, music and words to crucify the guy. But doesn’t he, along with BP, deserve it?

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We Have Slow Food. Are You Ready For Slow Driving?

55 mph speed limit being erected in response t...
Image via Wikipedia

When President Carter called for a 55 mph national speed limit in response to the 1970s Arab oil embargo there was a national outcry, and car manufacturers were not far from a decades-long binge on massive cars with powerful engines that could propel them nicely at speeds far in excess of the pokey 55 mph (recent research indicates that given an open road, Americans choose to cruise at 70 mph).

But with oil saturating the Gulf of Mexico, billions of American dollars a year going to nasty, hostile, dictatorships, and climate change slowly throttling the planet, I’ve been waiting for someone, somewhere, to make the case again for slowing down. And according to WIRED, someone has. And the new number is–drumroll–50 mph!

Everyone knows easing up on the accelerator can improve your fuel economy and reduce your emissions. But what kind of impact would it have on the environment if everyone had to slow down?

A potentially big one, as it turns out.

Dutch researchers say lowering the speed limit to 80 km/h (50 mph) would cut transportation-related CO2 emissions by 30 percent. Less drastic cuts in maximum speed would yield reductions of 8 to 21 percent, according to the study by CE Delft.

How?

Beyond significantly reducing the amount of fuel vehicles burn, a strictly enforced 50 mph speed limit would increase the time required to cover a given distance. That would lead many people facing long commutes to ditch cars in favor of other modes of transport, like rail. Longer term, the impact could prompt people to move closer to urban centers.

Okay, I’ll give it a shot. There’s no reason to rush anymore, anyhow, because we are still fully plugged in via our smartphones, even when we are stuck in a car (kidding, cyclists, kidding. Sort of…).

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Race To The Gulf: Sailors Will Sail

Despite the BP catastrophe, sailors turned out for the Race To The Coast this past weekend which took the fleet from Lake Pontchartrain to Gulfport. A friend of mine raced on a J30 and made this video. The fleet raced past lots of oil booms and barges, but at least saw some (healthy) dolphins. Looks like nice breeze and a great time.

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World Oceans Day Blues (Save Me Roz Savage!)

Plastic Ocean
Image by Kevin Krejci via Flickr

Today is World Oceans Day. The right thing to do, I suppose, would be to write my own World Ocean’s Day post. But to be honest, I feel like devoting one annual day to Earth Day, or Oceans Day, is a pretty pathetic response to the magnitude of the damage our little comfort and consumer-obsessed species is doing to both the wet and dry parts of the planet every single day. So if an annual day makes anyone feel like they are somehow absolved from all their usual ocean-killing habits and priorities–because they gave up fish for lunch, or sent out a tweet–and no one really changes their behavior in a big way, then it is sort of pointless, isn’t it?

Every day should be Oceans Day, if you think about it, because it is our everyday actions that are the problem. And if we could somehow manage to think about the consequences of those actions every day, then that would be something revolutionary. But most people don’t. They acknowledge Oceans Day for a day (if that) and move on. And then when BP blows out a deepwater well and pumps an unimaginable amount of oil into one of he world’s most valuable and fragile ecosystems there is a paroxysm of anger and complaint.

But that outcry would only be exceeded by the blowback and outrage we would hear if, say, President Obama and Congress moved forward on a real carbon tax, or simply asked the nation to stop air conditioning its homes and offices at near-frigid temps in the summer, and tropical highs in the winter.

Gulf-Oiled-Pelicans-June-3-2010
Image by IBRRC via Flickr

Our collective and cultural awareness, and willingness to make sacrifices in response, is just completely, completely out of synch with the actual demands of the problem.

Whew. That’s depressing, which is another reason I thought it best not to write about World Oceans Day (though somehow I just have).

Anyhow, what I intended was to let Roz Savage (who is not a dismal, Wetass-class, pessimist, and is, instead, a fantastic, ocean-rowing, phenomenon) tell you about World Oceans Day, because I liked her blend of urgency and hope that it is not too late to act.

Until this year, I felt uncomfortable when people tried to label me as an “advocate for the oceans”. It wasn’t a label I had chosen, and I felt it didn’t fit me. The Atlantic Ocean beat me up pretty badly in 2005-6, and I was still bearing a grudge. My relationship with the ocean could best be described as ambivalent. I regarded her as a tough taskmaster, who occasionally tried to kill me. Not the best basis for a happy relationship.

But this year two things have happened that have softened my attitude towards the vast blue bits of our planet.

First, there was TED Mission Blue. For two days I received a concentrated dose of all the bad news that I had heard about the oceans over the last few years, and it shocked me.

– There is a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton in the ocean. This cannot be good.

Consuming blue fin tuna is like barbecuing pandas.

Ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen.

In 40 years, seafood could be a thing of the past.

Ocean acidification is seriously affecting its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sure, I already knew about plastic pollution, collapsing fish stocks, ocean acidification, dead zones and coastal habitat destruction. But like so many environmental messages, the drip-drip-drip of bad news hadn’t really hit me with the sense of urgency that I got at TED. Here were world-respected experts telling us that we need to take urgent action before the oceans are too damaged to recover.

Given that the oceans cover 70% of our planet, it suddenly made sense to me that if our oceans are in trouble, then so are we.

I know, I know. She sounds just like me. But she ends with this:

So on this Oceans Day, even if you have never spent a day at sea in your life, I beg you to do a blue deed for the day. Do something to help. Join an ocean conservation organisation. Make a donation. Post a tweet. Just do something. And then tell us about it at http://ecoheroes.me. Log a “water” deed and tell us what you did.

The ocean thanks you. And so do I.

I do too, particularly if you resolve to log a “water deed” every day of the year. Now that would start making a real difference. And if that’s what you are ready for, then this day, and this post, won’t have been a waste at all. And if you want to join a community of citizens who are taking action on the oceans, then Oceana is an excellent place to start.

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