Monday, July 19, 2010


First I need to explain that this blog was envisioned purely as an instructional resource. I didn't want to get into many of the things - at least until I was done with instruction - that so many other blogs do, and do well. I am at my core a kayaking instructor. But some recent events occurred that I feel I should address.

It has been my privilege to teach for an amazing outdoor school. I work for them on occasion and have done so since becoming an instructor - for them - in 2006. I was also a student of theirs in 2000. When I work for them I teach in Alaska's Prince William Sound. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been, certainly one of the best paddling destinations in the world. It is full of wildlife, both marine and otherwise. It is surrounded by glaciers and mountains. It also bears the scars of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Valdez spill - which many thought, until recently was the worst spill in US history, was in fact relatively small (not even in the top 20). 32 million gallons is the high side of the estimate for how much oil was released into the sound. It occurred on March 24th 1989. The scars are still visible today. At low tide, in some locations - particularly the east shores of certain islands - you can smell oil. This happened to me, as myself, two other instructors, and 13 students were moving boats for the days paddling. I smelled it, and wasn't sure what I was smelling. I asked another, more seasoned instructor and he confirmed what I was thinking. He then pointed above our heads to the rocks, where a black line was clearly visible. This was an oil scar from floating oil at high tide. This interaction occurred 17 years after the March 24th spill.

Several days ago I was interested to see that the Deep Water Horizon well had been capped. 86 days after the explosion. I had planned on doing this post if it made it to 100 days without a cap occurring. And while it is good news that the well is capped - I refuse to call this a spill - It still pumped oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days. Compared to the Valdez spill - 32 million gallons - DWH pumped 4 million 2 hundred thousand gallons of oil per day. That is 357 million gallons of oil.

While PWS has recovered in terms of tourism and fishing, though fishing is still smaller than before 1989 - in fact, I have been told that all wildlife visible to the paddler is about one tenth of what it was before the spill. I weep at the thought of what havoc that oil in the Gulf of Mexico will bring. Between tourism dollars, and the income of commercial fisherman, not to mention the death of sea life, and impact on the ecosystem.

This is something that we need to think about if not as kayakers than as inhabitants of planet Earth. I am sure fewer people will be kayaking in the gulf coast for the remainder of the summer, and likely for years to come. I read an article in the NYT about the impacts on the oyster industry, which is having impacts on the burlap sack industry, and the chicken feed industry. Everything is connected, and I think that most people don't realize that the things they do have an impact on the environment as a whole.

Yesterday I was on a NYC subway and saw an advertisement for Shell oil. it was something to the effect of ' lets change the future, starting yesterday' to which my first thought was - too late! Change is difficult. But the time for change has come and gone. I am proud to say that people all over the world read this blog, and I can only speak for Americans, but we need to make dramatic changes to our lifestyle and reduce our dependence not only on foreign oil, but on all oil. We must as a species change the way we do many things. The way we drive, the way we shop, the foods we eat and so on, and so on. As an aside, I am in no way perfect in terms of impact. But it is something I am pretty diligent about. Even so I have room for improvement.

This is a good article on how to boycott BP without helping Exxon, but that is really only part of the problem. We need to change the way we do things. The one thing that is encouraging is that even little changes make an impact when done by many people. This is a video I ask my Leave No Trace students to watch, and if you haven't seen it yet I encourage you to as well.

There are so many things that you can do that are simple that make an impact. Please think about making changes to the way you do things before we have another Deep Water Horizon type of incident. The next one will be worse, and this one is pretty bad.

1 comment:

  1. We are but two people who live on an north Pacific island, on a magnificent but fragile, island planet, amidst an ocean of life that is interconnected and interdependent. It is abundantly clear that we all must do better, in all kinds of ways. Thanks for your words, PO.