Five companies were recently approved to begin seismic airgun blasting to find oil under the Atlantic Ocean between Delaware and Florida. Seismic blasting is devastating for whales (dolphins included), negatively impacting how they communicate, feed, and mate.
One species that environmentalists are concerned about is the right whale. These whales were cleverly named by whalers who deemed them the "right" whale to kill because they are slow and have a high concentration of blubber, which translates to money and ease of harvest (blubber makes them positively buoyant so they float when they die). Not surprisingly, they are now the most endangered whale in the world!
NOAA approved of this study saying that blasting wouldn't be allowed during the right whale migration and any boats performing these blasts would be required to have a NOAA observer, just in case. Moreover, NOAA said they would not allow blasts to happen while any endangered animals are within 56 miles. It might seem like NOAA is doing their due diligence to take care of the population, but right whales are gentle giants and could still be impacted from blasts even from 2,000 miles away AND the blasts would seriously impact their food source, putting them at further risk of extinction. Yikes!
Beyond that, there's the risk of oil spills in waters that are so nutrient rich that our entire fishery system could completely collapse. The reason why whales travel north for the summer is because the highest concentration of food is in colder waters. Although the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are warm and support some fisheries, they are not nearly as productive as the waters further north.
Imagine that an oil spill happens in the peak of hurricane season and the strong ocean currents that go from Florida to the Gulf of Maine draws all of that oil northward, covering those very productive waters with oil. The total Atlantic shoreline is 28,673 miles long (yes, I just Googled that); that's a huge potential for contamination! This scenario is NOT far-fetched, as it is what happened when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989. The ship ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and as is was stuck on the reef for three days, a storm came in. The storm went from east to west; good for Valdez, very bad for the 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean that it covered. The ecosystem is recovering, but you can still dig down about 6 inches in the sand in some places and find oil. I shit you not, that's a true story.
Here are some more exciting, depressing facts about oil spills for you to ponder...
During the Deepwater Horizon spill, 200 million gallons of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico contaminating over 1,100 miles of coastline. On top of that, 2,440 other oil spills occurred between 1964 and 2015, averaging about 5000 gallons per spill... and they're still happening! One oil spill that's been largely unaccounted for is the Taylor Energy oil-production platform that sunk in 2004 during Hurricane Ivan. This spill is leaking 12,600 gallons of oil EVERY DAY! That spill is so big that it's threatening to overtake the title of largest oil spill to date, currently held by Deepwater Horizon.
Yes, oil is a necessary evil, but if this is causing such damage to our oceans, our life force, then what good is it? We need to invest in renewable energy sources, decrease our overall energy use, and taper off our thirst for oil. Estimates of fossil fuel subsidies range from $10 to 50 billion each year... imagine what we could do if instead, we invested some (if not all) of that money into renewable energy sources. Elon Musk would have a field day!
The opportunities for innovation and economic growth are huge for renewable energy while non-renewables are going extinct. Even small communities seemingly without political or economic power are stepping up to fight the good fight. An article came out just yesterday about fishermen in California and Oregon who are standing up to big oil by suing them for their role in climate change.
Okay, deep breath. That was a lot of information... Here's a picture of a seal to make you feel better.
Okay, now back to reality...
Climate change, largely caused by humans, is seriously damaging that carbon sink every day. That's not some environmentalist fluff, that's science! The oceans are our largest carbon sink; algae, vegetation, and coral turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like plants on land. If you'd like to learn more about how the ocean is impacted by climate change, please check out the following links provided by the EPA's Student Guide to Global Climate Change:
Ocean Acidification: https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange//kids/impacts/signs/acidity.html
The oceans are our life-force. If we continue to treat it the way we are, it will no longer be able to absorb the carbon dioxide that we emit. The ocean has ALREADY reached a point where shells are dissolving, coral cannot build on itself, and fisheries are dying off because of the increasing temperature and acidification of the ocean. Poor subsistence island communities throughout the world are feeling these impacts already from rising sea levels, overfishing, pollution, ocean acidification, and increased ocean temperatures. They are not able to feed themselves on the ocean's bounty as they have for hundreds of years but instead are forced to rely on ships to drop off expired canned food and sad loaves of bread. These communities used to live off of the fish that were plentiful, but now the inequality of climate change and environmental degradation is driving them to a point where they have to rely on the western world to provide them with food that we wouldn't even feed our dogs.
With so many issues in the world today, I hope that you can leave some room in your hearts to absorb this information and take it seriously. We all need to do everything we can to mitigate our impacts, reduce our carbon footprint, and save our seas. First and foremost, please educate yourselves and delve into these issues, no matter how difficult they are to talk about. You can also donate to nonprofit organizations like Sea Shepherd, Oceana, 350.org, or the Nature Conservancy, or contact your state and local representatives to make a difference.
The environment is a humanitarian issue, not a partisan one.