Our world is in the throes of apocalypse. This is not overstatement. Derived from the Greek, “apo-kalypse” means revelation, an uncovering. As oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of at least 5,000 barrels a day, we are about to see a catastrophic shift in life on this planet. The only alternative to despair is action.
Right action begins with understanding, and so I visited the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw. The Center’s Oiled Bird Response Facility, founded as a response to the 1999 Star Evivva spill off the coast of Charleston, is the only permanent oil response facility on the East Coast. Jim Elliott, the executive director, provided insight and perspective on the scope of the disaster, the implications for both Charleston and the global community, and what to watch for in the coming years as we bear witness and respond to the effect our culture has on the environment which sustains all life.
The Gulf Coast supports the same salt marsh ecosystem we have here in the Lowcountry. Salt marshes cannot be scrubbed as sand and rock beaches can. The volatile and vibrant ecosystem – the nursery of the Atlantic – rates a 10 on the Environmental Sensitivity Index as the most vibrant and vulnerable.
Imagine oil hitting a saltmarsh. Marshes steeped in this “toxic salad dressing” simply die, resulting in the casualty of all the creatures dependent upon them for sustenance: crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fishermen, all the way up the food chain to the restaurant table where you order shrimp or oysters.
Birds are compelling bio-indicators of the health of the Earth. “It’s not a good way to die,” says Mr. Elliott discussing the expected casualties. Birds found coated in oil, dead or struggling, represent only 10% of the toll taken by this catastrophe, the rest lost to weather and tides.
That’s just the beginning. We have always lived as if life will continue, without compassion for what it feels like to be on the verge of extinction. This catastrophe promises to reveal the misplaced priorities which have compromised the earth’s ecosystem and the resources we need to survive.
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