I bet you can remember exactly where you were when the World Trade Center fell on September 11, 2001. If you’re the right age, you remember when President Reagan was shot or when President Kennedy and Dr. King were taken from us far too soon. You have probably told every friend your Frederick/Ivan/Katrina/tornado story until they can repeat it back to you verbatim.
How do you remember April 20, 2010? What is your BP oil disaster story?
My BP oil disaster date is always later than the one everyone else commemorates. The world stood and watched as 11 men died while the rig burned bright and hot with black smoke pummeling into the beautiful blue Gulf of Mexico sky on April 20 and 21. It wasn’t until the following Wednesday, April 28, that Mobile Baykeeper knew this was going to be a focal point for Alabama and us for years to come.
What a day that was and the 87 that followed. The phone started ringing and didn’t stop. People showed up at our office to help. You could already smell oil (they started burning it on April 28). The international media swarmed to the Gulf Coast.
Mobile Baykeeper understood quickly that we needed to be the voice for the community. The uncertainty, stress and confusion were palpable and Coastal Alabamians deserved answers to their questions. Mobile Baykeeper became a source of information for officials making decisions who didn’t know anything about our region. We worked to be a protector of business owners who finally realized that the environment is the local economy.
Working with partners, we found ways for volunteers to make a difference by organizing cleanups before oil washed ashore, training people to monitor our shorelines and teaching students and researchers how to report oil impacts. By refusing to be a spectator, we became a light of truth for the entire country who seemed lost amid the fallacy that all was well when it really wasn’t.
Five years later, here’s a little of what we know and what we’re working to accomplish.
• We know oil is still there. Tar balls are reported on Alabama beaches nearly every day. Mobile Baykeeper continues to train people to report oil when they see it and continues to encourage national awareness to the after effects of the spill to keep the pressure on BP and others drilling in the Gulf.
• Science confirms the oil disaster contributed to dolphin deaths. Scientists continue to find other impacts to marine life and fisheries. Mobile Baykeeper is working to make sure compelling studies are funded and the results are made public.
•Using dispersants at the bottom of the well was a bad idea. Adding a toxic chemical to break up oil so it remains hidden below the surface, without knowing what would happen is not good science. We continue to fight the use of dispersants in oil spills.
Mobile Baykeeper focuses on being the link connecting science, people, agencies and decision makers in our community. We speak for Mobile Bay and every river, stream and backwater slough that leads to it. We advocate for all of Baldwin and Mobile counties because the people and the coast are intertwined.
On the horizon are restoration opportunities that can make a generational change for Alabama’s environment, economy and community. Baykeeper supports good projects that ensure a high quality of life, economic prosperity, and better resiliency against the next disaster, manmade or natural.
We must remember what happened five years ago and how we tell that story must include lessons learned and how those lessons changed our lives. The lesson of connectedness — the environment to the economy and our communities — is a lesson we cannot forget and a chapter of the story that must be told.
To commemorate five years Mobile Baykeeper is releasing a video on Monday and tweeting 87 days of oil spill content. To always stay current on issues affecting Coastal Alabama like Mobile Baykeeper on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @MobileBaykeeper.