November 29, 2010

The BP Oil Spill Continues...And just doing our part to help

Gooey oil tar balls mixed with sand on those beaches BP told you were safe
Contrary to what you may have heard from official British Petroleum spokesmen and what you may NOT have heard from the media recently, the BP Oil Spill continues. No, the oil is not gushing from the well anymore. But, there remains millions and millions of gallons of oil out there in the Gulf of Mexico and it continues to wash up on shore.

BP recently claimed virtually all of it was cleaned up, naturally broke down due to bacteria, or evaporated. But, due to the use of dispersants at the well-head, a huge amount of it, perhaps most of it, never made it to the surface, but still lurks in the cold dark bottoms. With no sunlight and cold temperatures, it can not be broken down by photochemical processes or bacteria. But, what you don't see doesn't exist right? Out of site...out of mind perhaps?

Lines of tiny oil droplets on the beach
But, the BP Oil continues to wreak havoc on the pristine beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola, Florida. This is not over yet. The beaches look beautiful and white at first glance and the local media and businesses advertise they are clean to attract tourism. I believed it too. At the areas of the island we'd explored the first three days, we didn't see anything either. But, I did see signs saying "Oil Response Team" dotted around the beaches and little flags. I met a park service worker who was driving by picking up the flags. I asked her what it was about and she said they were spots where oil tar balls had been found previously.

But, the first time we had personal experience with it occurred today. We were walking the beach at the end of the island when I saw a huge rag-like material stuck in the sand a few feet off the beach under water. I waded in to pull it out of the water and next thing I know my hands are covered in oil!   Eww...

Pulling out a large plastic sheet covered in oil residue
Down the beach I saw a convoy of Coast Guard workers sifting the sand trying to remove tar balls that washed up on the beach. I walked down to report my find. They marked the site but came back to tell me that due to OSHA rules, they were not allowed to enter the water to dig it out and it would have to wait for a special water response crew to come perhaps in a couple weeks. Seriously? It is 5-feet away! If I knew about that before I had moved so far from the site, I would gone back to dug it out myself.

Anyways, the crew left shortly thereafter (probably for Thanksgiving Break) and then I started to notice tar balls floating around all over in the waves. Forget OSHA...I started pulling out as many as I could and I left a pile of tar balls on the beach next to their worksite for them to deal with later. I spelled out "OIL" in the sand and added some arrows to help them find it when they return.

Two of the three garbage bags we managed to fill up in just 1 mile of beach
Later, we also found some garbage bags left on the beach. So, we picked them up and decided to start collecting garbage on the walk back. Within 1 mile of beach, I had filled three garbage bags with old plastic sacks, water bottles, beer cans, broken helium balloons, and all sorts of other trash. We left the glass and iron, because that stuff will disintegrate naturally and focused just on the plastic.

The nasty thing is that the oil really adheres to the plastic, so just about every plastic bag was covered in oily residue too! Plastic bags and deflated balloons are particularly nasty to sea life, because sea turtles, birds, and a variety of fish think they are jellyfish and ingest them, only to choke to death or die of starvation when it gets stuck in their digestive tract.

This is a beach worth saving!
By the time we got back to the campground, I could barely drag these heavy overflowing sacks to the trash bin. I separated out the plastic bottles and aluminum cans to be recycled and tossed out the rest. The way I figure it, we were just doing our tiny little part to try and help a beach that has given us so much enjoyment!

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