As I swam in the Atlantic Ocean off Fort Lauderdale this morning, I noted the clear and clean the water. It was so clear that it reminded me of growing up in my hometown of Clearwater, Florida on the Gulf Coast near Tampa. You may know Clearwater as the setting for the annual Half Ironman National Championship.
It was in the Gulf waters off the white sandy beaches of Clearwater that I swam my first mile swim at about age 8 in order to complete the 10th level of the American Red Cross Swim Course. It was my memory of doing that mile swim in the Gulf that let me know that I could swim the long open water swim portions of HIMs and the full Ironman.
The Gulf Coast Beaches are beautiful beaches. They draw thousands of tourists throughout the year for swimming and sunning on their shores. The Gulf waters draw additional tourist to its waters for sports fishing and Scuba diving. This doesn't begin to address the large numbers of people that make their living from commercial fishing from the Gulf waters.
I was never one of those people who chanted "Drill baby drill." I wasn't a protester against Gulf drilling either. I felt that we need to pursue all avenues of energy development to reduce our dependency on oil. If that included some additional nuclear power plants and drilling, so be it. However, I don't think we, the American public, were let in on the lack of safety regulation and contingency plans for a Gulf Oil rig accident. I think we all kind of assumed that oil rig engineers were smart people that knew what they were doing and didn't take stupid risks with our commonly owned natural resources. Who knew that BP had no plan for dealing with this kind of contingency? Who knew we were taking these kind of risk?
It kills me to think of the damage that is occurring to our sea life, from the fish and reefs to the birds and sea turtles. The economic devastation to those working in the commercial and sports fishing industry is almost incalculable. To think that these giant clouds of underwater oil can drift along the Northern and Western Gulf shores down into the Florida Keys and up the East Coast of Florida and beyond is just mind boggling. Clearly, the calculus of the risks and costs were not accurately figured. Yes, BP will pay a big price for its mistakes, but it won't restore our beaches and wildlife. I wonder if the Clearwater Half Ironman Championship and IMFL in Pensacola are at risk for this year and maybe beyond. As I swam my open water mile this morning, I wondered: Will this too be at risk in the next several months? Will swimming and diving in the Keys and off Fort Lauderdale be ruined by this mess.
As I ran back along the sand to my starting point, I came across a guy pulling a dead sea turtle away from the surf. It's doubtful that this turtle was impacted by the spill, but will I be seeing this more often in the future? Will the oil still be spewing out of this hole in the Gulf six months from now? A year? Have we killed the Gulf or is it a wound that can heal? Will history judge us as foolish to allow the possibility of what has come to pass? We, as a people, may have a lot to answer for to future generations.