Guest blogger Shirley Siluk Gregory, who lives on Florida’s Gulf coast, gives us an account of all of the economic and ecological factors that are coming together to worsen the effects of this spill on the region. Shirley holds a degree in geology, is editor of the cleantech site Greenbang.com, and writes about climate and energy issues regularly.
The phrase “perfect storm” is overused, but it seems apt for the situation now facing the Gulf Coast.
Look at all the elements that are coming together in the wake of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster:
- The widening oil slick is threatening Alabama and northwest Florida, which were slammed by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. The same area was also hit by Hurricane Dennis in 2005.
- Then there’s Louisiana and Mississippi, where many of those affected by 2005′s Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans levee failures still have yet to return or rebuild their homes and businesses.
- Many coastal communities from Louisiana to Florida are also still reeling from the bursting of the real estate bubble. Countless beachfront condo developments and upscale beach homes built over the past several years now sit unfinished, empty or in foreclosure.
- The region now is in a high tide cycle (spring tide) and experiencing unsettled weather and rough waves, which is hampering efforts to control the slick and stop the oil leak. The beaches along northwest Florida on Sunday saw waves that you’d normally expect with an approaching hurricane, and today much of the stretch from Louisiana to Florida is under flood warnings.
- This is sea turtle nesting season, and the Gulf Coast’s sea turtle species have already suffered severe stress this year thanks to an unusually cold winter. Thousands of cold-shocked turtles had to be rescued in January.
- Spring and summer are also the time when beach-nesting birds – including threatened or vulnerable species like the American oystercatcher, black skimmer and snowy plover – lay their eggs along shoreline areas.
- April and May mark the start of fishing season for many economically important Gulf species like grouper and scamp. On Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed off both commercial and recreational fishing for at least 10 days.
All these factors added together are filling locals with dread. Some business owners have already said this is the final nail in the coffin for their enterprises.
One of the few causes for hope this weekend came as hundreds of volunteers gathered in places like Pensacola Beach for a beach cleanup effort. Based on a similar program used in California, the cleanup is aimed at eliminating debris that could make recovery even more difficult after the oil comes onshore.
The Deepwater Horizon spill is likely to deal a devastating blow to a region already on track to see severe impacts from climate change in years to come- stronger hurricanes, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and more extreme precipitation.
– Shirley Siluk Gregory