A thunderstorm approaching in Miramar Beach on Florida's Gulf Coast. Photograph by Carol Mays, My Shot
As oil continues to surge into the Gulf of Mexico from the site of last week's rig accident, travelers who had planned to relax on the Gulf Coast's silky white-sand beaches this summer should probably reconsider. Perhaps a better option this year would be to help clean up coast with groups such as the Surfrider Foundation, which organizes beach clean-ups, wildlife rescue, and advocacy initiatives to protect our oceans. We tracked down Surfrider's Michael Sturdivant, chairman of Florida's Emerald Coast chapter, to give us an eye-witness account of the status of the beaches.—Mary Anne Potts
What is it like now that the oil could be making its way to the beach? Can you describe what you see for us?
Oil has not reached our shores in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. But we have had an increase in birds washing up for several days now. Maybe a dozen a day, so not huge quantities, but certainly more than the usual couple a month. There is no oil on the birds, but perhaps they are ingesting contaminated fish or asphyxiating.
Unfortunately, I anticipate that all of our white-sand beaches will be severely affected, from west to east—Pensacola, Navarre, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Miramar, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Seaside, Inlet Beach, Panama City, Mexico Beach. We are expecting the beaches to be unsafe for many months, perhaps a year. They will likely not fully recover until many years after the oil drilling stops.
Surfers on Florida's Coast. Photograph by Betty Miller, My Shot
How's the water right now?
I surfed in Blue Mountain yesterday with a core group of friends. Waves were overhead and powerful, commanding respect while bringing us joy, but we couldn't help grieving in anticipation of the impending desecration. It was a blustery and gray day, but the beach was packed with like-minded folks saying their good-byes.
How do you even approach this kind of clean-up?
We are still focusing on prevention. Surfrider has been encouraging the county to build berms to protect our 15 precious Coastal Dune Lakes. We've been calling on mayors of northern cities to send any available oil booms or oil dispersant, as supplies are being rationed and have only yesterday made it as far east as Destin.
Are there steps people can take to volunteer to help?
Volunteers are chomping at the bit to try and help, but hitting roadblocks. Lists are being made. Most emergency numbers lead to several voicemail loops and eventually to a BP call center, where your name is put on a list. Federal oil response training remains elusive. The abbreviated four-hour course is being offered in Pensacola today (70 miles west of Blue Mountain Beach), but the six classes scheduled for this week are all full.... To our dismay, they are only training 40 people at a time. I have not yet found the 24-hour training, but have people ready to drive within a few hundred miles if necessary.
Have you ever experienced something like this in the past?
Talking with friends yesterday about our fear and grief I did recall a similar feeling when I was a college student. A mass murderer kept our campus at bay for a week. We locked our doors and stayed inside waiting and hoping no harm would come. The waiting, the helplessness, the anticipation of lives damaged and changed forever is very difficult to bear. We go through hurricanes with a similar anticipation, but there are things we can do to prepare and to recover. For the oil disaster, all the choices are made by the oil industry. We can't even sign up to volunteer without going through their switchboard. They chose to take this risk with full knowledge. Our lives and the ecosystem are a cold, calculated, and acceptable loss. I regret that the people responsible for this crime will continue to profit for their actions.
Surfboards spelling "no" in protest to offshore drilling, as seen at the Surfrider Foundation's Clean Water Good Vibes Music Festival last year. Photograph courtesy of Michael Sturdivant
Obama has just OK'd more offshore oil drilling. Do you think this will change his opinion?
Of course, I do not approve of opening more offshore oil drilling. I loathe the media for even responding to political strategies to link Obama and responsibility for this disaster. He was clearly not responsible for the choices made by BP, Trans Ocean, Haliburton, and the regulators and administrations who came before him. I believe his consideration of additional drilling was a political concession and even still an honest offer to at least hear the proposals and scrutinize the risks. I remained hopeful that Obama, after evaluation of those risks would have chosen to not proceed with increased off shore drilling. I am even more convinced he will understand the unacceptable risks now.