Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Sigh of Relief and the Turquoise Sea

I left the Southern Gulf Coast of Florida last year about a month after the BP oil spill. Typically unwilling to absorb the propaganda on the mainstream nightly news, I stared in disbelief at the images of oil billowing into the ocean. Like most other viewers, I was shocked. My way of dealing with it was to act – a standard human response. I hit the beach.

I’ve been making jewelry out of abandoned sea life from the Southern Gulf Beaches for a few years now. I have spent hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours combing the white sands for shells, sharks’ teeth and whatever else I found to be artful. After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, my immediate instinct was to gather as many shells as possible, before the possible genocide took its toll. I frantically gathered about 375 pounds of shells, which are waiting in buckets for their turn to be transformed into something eclectic.

After spending the past nine months in New Hampshire, I returned to the Gulf of Mexico for a brief visit. I was pleased when I noticed dozens of Ospreys’ nests – most of them occupied – on my way to Boca Grande. With gratitude, I observed circling Vultures, Mocking Birds, Gulls and Terns, and a wide variety of long-legged, wading birds. The most thrilling moment of the day was the initial sight of turquoise water, white sand and diving Pelicans upon approaching the bridge to Gasparilla Island.

I don’t know what I expected, since we no longer hear about the effects of the colossal oil spill. Like many other images over the years that have bombarded us via the airwaves – clips of the raging explosion, gushing underwater oil plumes, oil soaked pelicans, cormorants and sea turtles fighting to survive – were embedded into our collective minds. For some, there is hope of desensitizing; however the devastation of suffering animals does not diminish. We were relentlessly exposed to the horrors of the BP oil spill and then one day the source of information slammed shut. No one talks about it. No one asks questions. No more photos. No more suffering wildlife or fishermen. Like magic, we are expected to believe that it quietly faded away. Once in a while a spokesperson will attempt to assure the population that the FDA declares that the fish are “safe” for consumption. No thank you, I’ll settle for local, organic, clean food.

The other day when I saw the seemingly thriving "Southern" Gulf of Mexico, I was flooded with relief. I walked barefoot on the white, talcum powder sand to the water’s edge, examining random, familiar shells that lingered in foamy remnants of the waves. Just as I was about to sit down, I spotted a dolphin pod. I fought to catch my breath as I waited for them to re-appear from under the water, while a man about twenty feet away carefully released a large stingray from his fishing line. The sky was clear blue with a few genuine clouds dotting the horizon. I exhaled.

As I walked along the beach thinking about collecting shells, I noticed tiny black specks that I would normally consider to be sharks’ teeth. I examined them, not qualified to identify them. I cannot rely on finding authentic answers in the name of commerce and tourism. They are not sharks’ teeth, not shells and unlikely little creatures. When I pressed them between my fingers they left a brown oily residue. I do not recall seeing them before. I might be paranoid; I may have been handling tar balls. I don’t know. But overall, I am relieved and choose to believe that the loop current has saved the Gulf Beaches of Southwest Florida, or perhaps it is the work of angels. I simply do not know.

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