Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Disaster that Looms for Animals in the Gulf of Mexico

The oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last week that resulted in the tragic deaths of 11 workers now threatens to become a disaster of gargantuan proportions. As many as 5,000 barrels of oil per day continue to spill into the Gulf where the rig collapsed and sank into the water. That's 42,000 gallons per day, according to The New York Times. To make matters worse, the oil slick is rapidly moving to the Gulf Coast, despite round-the-clock efforts of workers to stop it.

CNN's Website ran a fantastic story headlined "Oil spill could be a disaster for animals, experts say." The story is absolutely painful to read. The approaching oil threatens huge bird sanctuaries, stretches of coastal inlets where otters live, 400 species of fish, not to mention the blue crab, oysters and turtles along the coast. CNN quotes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official Tom MacKenzie: "The best case is, the wind shifts and the oil doesn't hit. I'm not real confident about that.... We're doing everything we can to prevent it, but it could be a bad one."

Louisianans still have awful memories of an oil spill a few years ago near the state's Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge that killed about 800 pelicans. This spill could prove far worse.

It is difficult to point fingers in this case. Obviously, nobody meant for this to happen. And no individual was really to blame. It was a tragic accident, and we should not forget the sorrow of the families of the 11 workers who were killed. They deserve our sympathy and compassion at this moment.

Still, I can't help but think of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound, Alaska, back in March of 1989. It was horrific in every sense of the word. I will never get out of my mind the ghastly images of those suffering animals covered in toxic black sludge. We will never know the final death toll from the Valdez disaster. As many as a quarter of a million seabirds died, along with 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and at least 22 orcas. We will never know how many fish were destroyed. The number is likely staggeringly high.

Flash forward 21 years, to 2010. A headline in The Independent (UK) said: "Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico 'could be worse than Exxon Valdez disaster.'"

Wherever human beings go, we somehow manage to fuck everything up. Sometimes it is exceedingly difficult to be hopeful about people. Sometimes it's impossible to fake optimism and say good things about humanity. And sometimes - just sometimes - one quietly hopes that this short-sighted and selfish race will go the way of the Neanderthal. I know it's impolitic to talk like that or think in those terms, but moments like this certainly seem to justify it.

Post-script: For another excellent articles on the threat of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to animals, see David Knowles' column on AOLNews.

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