Get involved and make a differenceFrom the July 30, 2010 Issue
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
The yellow crowned night heron is among the shore birds
in danger from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico. Local birdwatchers and conservationists
are urged to make their voices heard about the spill.
While most residents and businesses of the central Gulf coast haven't yet been directly affected by the horrendous BP oil spill, it is vital that we don't let the lessons of this tragedy go unlearned. Sure, it's easy to point fingers, and there is certainly plenty of blame to go around. The hard part is that we have to take some responsibility. I'm typing this on a keyboard that was made from the same kind of oil that continues to gush, unabated into the Gulf. When I look around my house, I notice everything that's made of plastic (read oil). Did you ever see the commercial that shows everything disappearing in a house when oil is removed from the equation? It's a daunting problem, even once the oil is finally under control, but one we all have to consider very carefully. As poorly as BP has handled its safety procedures, it wouldn't be drilling in waters over a mile deep if there wasn't a demand for its products.
What we're experiencing now is just a part of the hidden cost of our oil addiction, one that is taking a terrible toll on wildlife, fisheries and the people who depend on them. The final cost of this unimaginable tragedy won't be known for decades, but it does pose a very real and pressing question for everyone who appreciates and benefits from the bays and Gulf that surrounds our islands. The clean water and vibrant eco-system fuels not only our passion, but our economy as well. We cannot afford to risk losing this resource because we aren't paying attention. We are experiencing the consequence of citizens leaving the safety and well being of the environment to others. When we don't take a personal interest in the politics that drive important decisions, we risk leaving important decisions to others who might put financial interests over safety. What is a concerned citizen to do? Feeling helpless is not an answer!
Examining this issue makes me wonder what plans might be in place to protect the resources that surround us. While I doubt that we will totally escape the BP disaster, we can thank the distance from the leak and the Loop Current for helping to minimize the potential impact to our shores. What worries me is the scenario of a tanker rupturing in Tampa Bay and the oil moving towards Anna Maria Sound. Do we feel safe that a plan is in place, that booms are available, or that if they are, they will even work? The unfortunate residents of the northern Gulf coast states found the answer to those questions too late.
While it will take time to make the necessary and unavoidable move to clean, self sustaining fuels, we can all take the initiative to be more conscious about the impact of our lifestyles, take part in the political process that determines how we value our resources and join organizations that lobby for a clean environment and common sense policies.
We need to communicate with our congressmen and senators, letting them know that we value these resources and hold them accountable for their protection. If they don't hear a loud and clear message from us, we risk them being swayed by lobbyists that represent interests other than our own. Locally, we have the ability to communicate directly with those that represent us by showing up at town hall meetings, commission meetings and forums that give voice to our concerns.
We can also make a difference by joining organizations that work to protect the environment, nationally and locally. This doesn't have to be political. While effective organizations like the National Resources Defense Council and the Ocean Conservancy lobby politicians and build consensus between corporations and environmentalists, hands on opportunities are available right in our communities. Local groups like Tampa Bay Watch (www.tampabaywatch.org) the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program's Bay Guardians (www.sarasotabay.org) and Sarasota Bay Watch (www.sarasotabaywatch.org) show politicians that citizens care by their interest in and hands on actions to improve the bays. Get involved, make a difference, and help protect the local waters that sustain not only our passion but our economy as well.