Today’s a good day to go to the beach and celebrate our good luck that it’s oil free.
Just three years ago we were eyeing our beaches with a sense of dread. On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked an oil rig off the coast of Texas, killing 11 people. The rig, Deepwater Horizon, sank, and for 87 days the Macondo well was gushing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico — 206 million gallons before it was capped.
It was a disaster of historic proportions, devastating Louisiana’s shoreline and beaches in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida’s Panhandle. Gulf fisheries, shrimp and oyster beds were wiped out. But South Florida and the Keys caught a lucky break. Neither a shift of wind or current pushed oil into Florida Bay or on to Southeast Florida beaches.
The disaster lingers, however, with miles of Louisiana’s shoreline still to be cleaned. In the aftermath, a lot of us landlubbers were jarred suddenly into recognizing that Florida’s waters are more than “local” treasures. They are major economic drivers. Even Congress figured out that we need to know and do more to protect coastal resources. It passed the RESTORE Act, dedicating 80 percent of the fines and penalties incurred by BP and other parties judged responsible for the disaster, to be used to restore the region’s ecosystems. The law leaves it to a Restoration Council to solicit and evaluate research proposals and projects.
Two proposed Florida projects are of particular interest in South Florida: the Caloosahatchee River reservoir and an additional Tamiami Trail bridge. The cross-state Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) highway has long acted as a dam, interrupting and blocking the once-natural flow of water south. The proposed bridge alleviates that bottleneck, allowing more fresh water to get to the coastal mangroves and estuaries of Everglades National Park’s 10,000 Islands.
The Caloosahatchee River links Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Myers. The proposed reservoir, a component of the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, would store fresh water during the rainy season reducing the destructive gluts water discharged into the river from the lake to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike. During the dry season when the lake is low, the reservoir would provide fresh water to the river that is needed to prevent salt water from continuing to intrude so far upriver that it forces a Lee County drinking-water treatment plant to shutdown.
Yes, three years ago we were lucky. As we celebrate that good luck, let’s also demonstrate that we’re now smarter than we were and willing to work together to protect and to restore our natural heritage — the beaches, rivers, springs, forests, birds and wildlife, clean air and other resources that we enjoy and that so many depend on for their livelihood.
Martha Musgrove, volunteer Southern regional director, Florida Wildlife Federation, West Palm Beach