Monday, November 01, 2010

“Check Your Algal Bloom?”

Writer’s note:  I should explain to newer readers that while Ace, the bumbling reporter, is a fairly accurate stand-in for your writer, his editor, Bob Spinner, is an affectionate but grossly distorted version of  Bob Weaver, a tolerant, good-natured, and long-suffering friend if ever there was one.  Bob, with the help of his wife Diane and a few loyal friends, has been putting out a wonderful online “newspaper” called the Hur Herald for many years.  The paper distills the essence of life back in our home territory in Calhoun County, West Virginia, and I wholeheartedly commend it to you.  You can find a link to the Herald on my blog page, or you can reach it readily by googling its name.  The Hur Herald is an all-volunteer effort and a labor of love; if you enjoy it and want to support it, I’m sure Bob and company would make good use of your donation.
* * * *
My editor, Bob Spinner, had sent me off to Louisiana to investigate reports of disagreements between local fishermen and environmental monitors on the one hand, and  state and federal agencies on the other, about huge oil sightings reported in an area the government has recently reopened for fishing.  
One commercial mackerel fisherman told a TV reporter that “Oil is everywhere.  Our boats have to plow through plumes of oil twenty miles long, floating on the surface and as much as five inches thick. Anybody who eats fish and shrimp from this mess is an idiot.”
Other fishermen have repeatedly charged that the governments’ overriding concern all along has been the health of the oil industry and its profits, not the health of citizens and the environment.  
Government agencies, by contrast, remain unfailingly upbeat.  They continue to declare that the Gulf of Mexico is largely free from remnants of the escaped oil and dispersants derived from the mammoth BP oil spill in the Gulf.  Earlier this week, a U. S. Coast Guard spokesperson, Lt. Cdr. Chris O’Neil,  declared that the thick brownish-red substance spreading over thirty square miles in the West Bay area off the Louisiana coast appeared to be “an algal bloom.”   
I checked in with Bob by telephone just before filing my story.
“What have you come up with, Ace?” he demanded.
“It’s definitely algal bloom,” I said cheerfully, glad to be able to deliver good news for a change.
There was a pause.  Then, “I have to admit that’s not what I expected.  If anyone else had told me that, I’d have been surprised,” he said.  “Do you mind telling me what evidence you have for that conclusion?”
“People along the Louisiana coast know algal bloom when they see it,” I told him.    “You stop at a full service filling station and the attendant pumping your gas asks, ‘Check your algal bloom?’  And if you tell him to go ahead, he’ll fiddle around under the hood and then say something like, ‘Your algal bloom’s about half a quart low.’  They tell me that Standard Algal Bloom has a lot of filling stations down here, too.  And everyone says there’s a big push by energy companies to drill more deep-water algal bloom wells in the Gulf.”
“That’s ironic,” he muttered, apparently to himself.  “Did you check out any of the citizen complaints first hand?” 
“Sure,” I said.  “A BP pilot flew me over West Bay to see it for myself.”
“And the government is absolutely correct,” I said. “There’s algal bloom covering  the surface as far as you can see.  Marshes are covered with algal bloom, their grasses are dark and dead, and sea birds have their feathers coated with algal bloom. Everything has an algal sheen to it, reflecting all the colors of the rainbow and shimmering in the light.”  (I was proud of myself for that last part; it had a poetic ring to it.)
Bob made that sound that resembles the gnashing of teeth.  “I can’t believe I’ve overestimated you again,” he finally responded.
“Thanks, Chief,” I said.  “By the way, I need to lay over and change my flight to tomorrow evening.”
“Why should I pay for an extra night?” he demanded.  
“Excuse me for being indelicate,” I said, “but I’ve got the runs.  I think it might be the shrimp gumbo I had last night for dinner.”
© Tony Russell, 2010


wildfire said...

Sigh. This IS different, isn't it? Twenty or thirty years ago, the government eagerly and blatantly protecting a giant oil company's profits at the expense of the public wouldn't have happened. Not after a disaster like this, anyway,
The oceans are dangerously over-fished anyway, so it's best to stop eating the time this assault is absorbed and the marine ecosystems recover, there will be another one--we may not be able to safely eat seafood again in our lifetimes.

Tony Russell said...

This "algal bloom" column only deals with surface oil--which is disaster enough. But the sub-surface oil, made more soluble through the use of over a million gallons of dispersants (themselves toxic), is the whale in the swimming pool. What is REALLY disheartening, other than giving BP approval ahead of schedule to get back to the business of drilling for money, is Mr. Obama's assertion that "in the end, I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before." He came across in his campaign as a man of intelligence and convictions. His statement shows him betraying both.