Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Look Back at the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: 1

A Blog Originally Posted on Day 71 of the BP Oil Spill:

All we can do is continue working, and so we do. We are keeping an optimistic outlook here on Pleasure Island, but every day is riddled with uncertainty, high-running emotions, and a lot of work. I am struggling to record everything that is going on...heartbreaking is not a strong enough word to describe the feeling of loss and helplessness as your home is slowly consumed.

Things are chaotic down here. Those of us in the service industry are scrambling to prepare for the free Jimmy Buffett and Friends concert meant to boost our flailing economy. We are struggling to keep our guests happy while people fight over the limited tickets and as the tropical storm and the oil change the details. We are keeping our fingers crossed for the 4th of July celebrations down here, hoping for at least one last money-making hoo-rah before things get worse. We are trying, so hard, to keep an upbeat attitude, for our guests, for our families, for our own sanity, but it is very difficult as we know that even now, on Day 71, oil is still flowing into the Gulf at an alarming rate, and that there is no indication the leak will be capped any time soon.

Our dwindling tourists, excited about the impending concert and Independence Day activities, seek out alternate entertainment as they cannot swim, fish, boat, or float in the Gulf of Mexico. They walk the beach and clean tar off their kids' feet and hands at the end of the day, accidentally walk oil into the swimming pools, and go go-cart racing or miniature golfing at night. Thank goodness for our live music community. It really helps to have that here. Thank goodness for Jimmy Buffett, as condo rentals have skyrocketed and the restaurants are feeling a happy buzz, if only for a week or so.

The fishing industry has come to a screeching halt. Our seafood is not safe to consume, our waters are not safe to boat in. Fishermen, shrimpers, seafood distributors, charter captains, anyone with any experience in boating whatsoever is fighting for jobs to skim, to pull boom, to patrol for oil. BP is hiring and thankfully our governor finally mandated that Alabama workers must be Alabama residents, so SOME lucky people are finding jobs. They are also finding these jobs to be unforgiving; it is hot, hard work and employees are quickly dehydrated, overheated, and exhausted. The turn over for BP employees is big.

I myself am working nights on the beach, monitoring heavy sifting machines as they move down the beaches at one-two mph, shaking tar balls out of our once white, now reddish orange sand. My job is to make sure that the machines do not destroy turtles or any sign of turtle activity. I fell into this position thanks to my 8 years volunteer experience with the Share the Beach sea turtle conservation program. One light in this darkness: we are finding nests. Momma turtles are still laying their eggs. Last week we actually found two mothers in the midst of laying in two nights (one discovered by Matt Reynolds, one by my own Momma Sherry). Sadly, we will have to wait out the majority of the gestation period, then excavate the nests and relocate the eggs to the eastern shores of Florida, where the babies will have a fighting chance at avoiding our oil...as hatchlings imprint the beach they hatch at and return to that same place to nest when they reach maturity, we will be missing a generation down the road here in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

I am quite pleased with the clean up efforts, finally, here at home. Now that we have locals working, motivation and passion are evident in the crews. The only problems? We don't have enough people to cover the beach, and the oil keeps coming. Every day we clean the work is undone. However, we are all working round the clock to keep our beaches oil free.

Wildlife is changing behavior. Marine life has moved in close to shore as the oxygen has been depleted from the water. Sand crabs are chocolate-colored, no longer white. I've noted many unfamiliar birds, some of which cannot fly when threatened. The death toll for sea turtles, marine mammals, birds, and fish continues to climb.

It is very emotionally draining. We're tired and we're hurting, and we appreciate the well-wishes from the rest of the country and the world. As we continue to note, our communities down here can handle hurricanes, we can handle tornadoes and we can recover, together, from anything that nature throws at us. This oil is an entirely different animal. Although we are the blind leading the blind in this case, we continue to support each other, to seek solutions, to keep our chins up, to work hard to protect our beaches, our waters, our animals, our economy, our very way of life. We continue to believe that BP and the brilliant people of this world will find a solution to the leak and that, eventually, we will see a light at the end of the tunnel, and an end to this treacherous disaster.

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