Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there. Read all his posts.
I don’t know how much good we’ll do, trying to anchor a half mile of oil-collecting booms in 25 knot winds and 6 foot seas. But Jeff DeQuattro, The Nature Conservancy’s oyster restoration manager in Alabama, is right: We can’t just leave newly restored oyster beds unprotected as this massive pool of crude closes in on the Alabama coast.
In a simple world, we’d hope that one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history would just go someplace else.
There’s a thousand linear miles of coastline in the northern Gulf of Mexico from Texas back through the panhandle of Florida, thousands of miles if you count all the bays and inlets the oil could penetrate. You’d reckon that even an oil slick the size of Connecticut could find a place to settle down other than in the state we call home.
But unless someone figures out how to turn that well off fast — and that possibility seems more and more remote — it looks like the entire northern Gulf Coast could get hosed with oil, from the mouth of the Mississippi River back to the coastal resorts of northwest Florida.
A rough late spring storm is taking the spill on a ride. Today, 6 to 10 foot waves are driving the slick northeast, smack into the marshes of east Louisiana and up into the big bend of the Pearl River delta and Honey Island Swamp, on the Louisiana-Mississippi line. That’s the same area swamped by Katrina four years ago.
Those of us working in Alabama hope for another 24 to 36 hours to protect our own shorelines. Sunday, the winds should drive the spill due north, across the entire Mississippi coast and right into the mouth of Alabama’s best and most productive seafood nurseries.
But in the northern Gulf, which produces 40 percent of the nation’s seafood harvest, it doesn’t matter where disaster comes ashore. There is no place that isn’t somehow intimately connected to someplace else. Louisiana shrimpers haul in shrimp that got fat in the Mobile River delta of Alabama. Sports fishermen in Florida catch fish that spawned in the marshes of Mississippi. If the spill wrecks the oyster beds in Louisana and somehow leaves the Alabama beds unspoiled, both states will take the hit: The livelihood of hundreds of workers in Alabama’s oyster processing industry — the nation’s largest — depends on a steady supply of oysters from the sprawling reefs of Louisiana.
We’re doing all we can to protect the few thousand feet of oyster reefs we can get to fastest and first. But I don’t expect we’ll feel good about it when we’re done. There’s a few thousand miles of our coast to go.
(Image: Gulls on Alabama Coast. Image credit: Steve Beger Photography/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)