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Gulf Oil Spill: Up Close and Personal

by Michael Maturo

Orangetown Councilman Michael Maturo visited the Louisiana wetlands earlier this month to learn first-hand about the oil disaster and the governmental response and found the situation to be more complicated and uncertain than he had imagined.

We as individuals in Orangetown and Rockland may not have the answers but we can show that we have the energy and interest in employing our best scientists, engineers, and legislators to fix this crisis and better prevent future crises.

People are frustrated, angry, and saddened by what is the greatest environmental disaster in our history. Dorian, a 27-year-old nursing student, told me of friends whose families had been in fishing for generations…and who now have no idea when, if ever, they will be able to restart their fishing careers. ‘€œImagine having to start all over?’€

Sam Lovelace, a social documentarian, arrived at a coastal town just in time to share the experience with the Coast Guard and residents, who stood powerless as oil washed on shore. ‘€œI fell down on my knees, crying. I watched little crabs struggle in the oil.’€

They are also frustrated with the government, who has passed off most of the clean-up responsibility to BP and its contractors. That response might have been OK, except that ‘€œthey are not even asking the guys who know the most about the coast what to do,’€ says ‘€œDoc,’€ a University of Michigan chemistry PhD and New Orleans college educator.

While human frustration is understandable, some of that anger could be better tempered and directed at fully understanding the complexity and uncertainty of the situation. ‘€œThis is not a simple thought exercise. Anyone who makes it sound simple isn’t factoring in the uncertainties,’€ according to Bryan Piazza, a program manager at The Nature Conservancy deeply involved with the crisis.

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We don’t fully understand the impact on the wetlands, the ocean ecosystem, and the fisheries, particularly because they are so intertwined with each other. Over a hundred gulf species of seafood, from shrimp to blue crabs, spawn in the ocean and move into the coastal estuaries as adults. This crisis could kill off entire populations.

Piazza also reminds us, however, of the scientific and engineering complexities of addressing the oil itself. Would you rather have unweathered oil, which is toxic to marine life but short-lived, or weathered oil, which is less toxic but has a slower, longer-lasting negative impact?

‘€œWe’re all tied to the marshes, we’re all tied to the ocean, and I can’t imagine anybody who isn’t dedicated to closing this hole and fixing this problem.’€

Worse, New Orleans and the Gulf region have still not fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which happened almost five years ago. The economy, infrastructure, and sense of community are still badly threatened. Approximately 20% of New Orleanians still have not returned; in some places, that number is over 70%, says Ward ‘€œMack’€ McLendon, founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Village community center.

I visited thinking I could clean oil-laden animals or clear debris from coastal shores. The reality is that, unlike Katrina, there are more volunteers than opportunities. Cleaning oil requires hazardous material training, and in many cases cleaning up the coastline physically — with boats and people — would damage the wetlands more than the oil itself.

We the People are far from powerless:

  • Promote awareness of the crisis by telling your friends, family, and government officials. Send letters and emails to your legislators (townboard@orangetown.com) to let them know you support America’s wetlands and want better legislation to protect our environment, which is tightly connected with our economy and health.
  • Make a donation to groups like the Southeastern Wildlife Conservation Group, who are already on the ground monitoring and cleaning up the oil.
  • Recognize that the Gulf has still not recovered from Katrina. Help victims through groups like KatrinaVictims.org. The infrastructure broken by Katrina is as important to the Gulf as its shoreline.

A crisis of this magnitude should also further encourage us to move away from risky energy sources like oil and move toward more sustainable energy sources like solar.

We must better protect the environmental and human health of America.

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Michael Maturo is a Councilman from Orangetown, NY and Director of Sales Operations at UNISON, an interactive business meeting company in Nyack. This article was reposted from MichaelMaturo.com.

Photo Credit: Audubon of Florida


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