Guest Post by RV Odyssey First Mate Dan Haefner:
On the 20th of June, Pensacola was the recipient of yet another present from the Gulf of Mexico–a 1000-plus pound tar mat washed up in Fort Pickens National Park. Tar balls wash up pretty much everyday along the coast between Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens, but sometimes a large mat is uncovered by waves.
I started the day as I like to spend most of my days in port–walking the beaches of Ft. Pickens. As a local Pensacolian, I feel a special connection to the beaches there–it has been a place of fond memories. As a Boy Scout, I camped there when I was young. I learned to surf at one of the parking lot beaches when I was 15. I did a national science fair project there in high school that won many awards and I still continue to go there as one of my favorite recreational outings.
It was on one of these outings that I spotted a few Coast Guard workers digging up a tar mat and immediately I called the crew of the R/V Odyssey into action. I wanted to show my fellow crewmates how much tar actually comes up from one of these. I feel like normally they are scooped up and forgotten about all too quickly. I also feel most people have been brainwashed into believing that the Gulf is clean, our beaches are clean and the seafood is safe to eat, and as a local this was important for me to share with everyone.
My question to anyone is, if our beaches were clean why do we have 1,400 pound tar mats washing up each time a swell picks up? One of my biggest concerns that very few people are talking about is bacteria. Vibrio vulnificus is a flesh-eating bacteria that thrives in tar balls as proven by Auburn University. We know these tar mats are there, so why has nothing been done about them up until now? I have lived in Pensacola for all of my adult life and when people tell me there have been tar balls for years I look at them in astonishment. If they have been here that long then why have you done nothing about it?
I joined the Odyssey crew a year ago with the thought of seeing whales and more of the Gulf than I have ever seen. What I got was a shock that a body of water could be so polluted with trash and contaminants. I learned that I never ever want to swim in the Gulf again, and I grew up on these beaches. We have done a horrible job as Americans of taking care of our natural resources–the Gulf of Mexico is filled with our waste and we have done nothing but stand by and watch as it becomes more and more destroyed by ourselves and corporations that rape the sea floor for everything it’s worth, from overfishing to oil exploitation.
I, for one, will take a stand and tell everyone I know that the Gulf shouldn’t be forgotten, that the seafood isn’t safe, and that the beaches are not clean. Instead of pumping millions of dollars into ad campaigns, why not just find a solution? I feel we will all pay the price in the end for this horrible accident that is too soon being forgotten.
(Photo at top: US Coast Guard taking samples of tar mat to send to BP)