#BP Oil Spill Four Years Ago – Let Us Not Forget

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

BP’s oil spill in 2010 still haunts us today as scientists study the lingering effects of the millions of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the spill, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. Immediately, our agency became watchdogs for oil headed toward Florida’s waters and beaches. I wrote about the oil spill in my novel, Trails in the Sand, using it as the backdrop for a family racing to save itself from destruction.

April 20, 2014 represents the forty-fourth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and it’s also sadly, the fourth anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Trails in the Sand is on sale during April for .99 cents on Kindle. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Trails in the Sand:

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.

 

Here’s to remembering the past lest we repeat our same mistakes.

 

#Oil Spills Continue

Last December, scientists announced that dolphins in Louisiana were experiencing lung diseases and low birthrates in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that released more than 636 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Now, researchers have also found evidence of potentially lethal heart defects in two species of tuna and one species of amberjack — all economically important species for commercial fisheries. This news, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today, comes less than a week after the announcement that BP will once again be allowed to explore the Gulf of Mexico for oil. . .

. . .But a BP spokesperson contacted The Verge to state that “the paper provides no evidence to suggest a population-level impact on tuna, amberjack, or other pelagic fish species in the Gulf of Mexico,” as the “oil concentrations used in the lab experiments were rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident.”

 

To top off my morning of reading, I read that a tanker has spilled oil into Lake Michigan, which occurred less than two weeks after the United States lifted BP’s ban on seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. (Click here for complete article)

 

Four years ago, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. I handled all the media and public relations for a bold effort by scientists to save sea turtle hatchlings from the oil encroaching on Florida’s offshore habitats and beaches.

Photo by P.C. Zick

Photo by P.C. Zick

Today, four years later with two more oil spills threatening our environment and innocent wildlife, I ask where will it all end?

The answer is not in giving up petroleum-based projects, but in forcing the industries involved in farming, harvesting, and producing fossil fuels to abide by safety standards and insisting that our enforcement agencies do their job.

Click on cover

Click on cover

 

My book Trails in the Sand follows the disaster of the BP oil spill and sea turtle nest rescue as the main character, an environmental writer, attempts to rescue her family from destruction.

 

#Beach Life – #Sea Stars and Royalty

thorny starfish

thorny starfish

I came across this starfish while visiting Florida recently. Sometimes they are referred to as sea stars. There are hundreds of species of starfish, which aren’t “fish” at all. They are echinoderms and related to sea cucumbers and urchins. This fellow is a thorny starfish with five arms, but some species have nine arms. I don’t think I’ve come across one of those before.

If this critter feels threatened, it can escape by letting one of the arms break away. In one of those miraculous acts of nature, within a year the sea star can grow back the missing arm.

Sea stars are usually be found on Florida beaches after a storm during low tide.

Another thing I love about the beach are the variety of shorebirds that hang out there. Unfortunately, on most Florida beaches, they’ve become so accustomed to people they just hang out on the beaches hoping someone will drop some food, but please refrain from doing so if they approach you. They need to remain aloof from humans. Here’s a royal tern giving me and my camera a pose. I use a zoom lens for most of my photos of wildlife so I’m not as close as it seems in this photo. Please be aware that shorebirds nest on crowded beaches. It’s best to leave them be; any disturbance can cause them to abandon their nests.

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I suppose on this strange February afternoon in Pennsylvania, I’m longing for spring. The walks on Florida’s beaches seem so long ago now.

How goes for it in your part of the world?

 

Snow Inspires Florida Writer

DSC03106I woke to a fairyland of snow-covered trees and lawn on a day when I thought I would be waking up to the marsh and swampland of the Everglades.

I’d planned a writer’s retreat while my husband attended a conference in Reno. We began by spending a week with my daughter and her boyfriend in St. Augustine, after driving there from Pennsylvania the week before Thanksgiving. We played in the surf, walked the beach, walked across the Vilano Bridge to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth site. And then we shared a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends in Flagler College’s dining hall, replete with one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass in the world. The college is housed in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, Henry Flagler’s showpiece of grand architecture, art, and opulence during the Gilded Age. My daughter graduated from Flagler in 2005, so it was a grand setting with a bit of nostalgia. The food was tasty and the company even better.

wood stork

wood stork

As our week progressed, the weather warmed. But my husband’s condition that first surfaced in Mexico returned, and we were forced to cancel our plans and come home five days earlier than planned.

As I looked out at the snow-covered yard, I was struck by the beauty of the whiteness against the stark background of naked tree limbs.

We spent those unexpected days at home with no plans or deadlines and delved into keeping warm and getting my husband well.

In the week since we returned, I’ve completed the first third of my new novel, Native Lands. It might be true what writer Harry Crews always said. He needed to write about growing up in Georgia away from there.

Perhaps being in the setting of the Everglades would have distracted me from the work. As the wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets foraged for food in the swamp, my eyes would be glued to them and not to the laptop screen. The gators sunning on the edge of the water and fish slowly swimming by the dock would have occupied my time instead of the writing. The kingfishers, pelicans, and ibis might have forced me to photograph them rather than working on my manuscript.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

The warmth of a November day in the Everglades would make me sit with my feet up, a beer in my hand on a lounge chair overlooking the mangrove and cypress trees dripping in Spanish moss. It’s much easier to write when I’m forced to stay inside.

I’ll go back, hopefully in February, for another try. This time I’ll have more of my novel done and during  my time in St. Augustine and Everglades City, I’ll spend time on plenty of porches and sandy beaches warming my toes in the sun checking my facts on whether the surf is stronger at sunrise or sunset and determine whether the pelican or the great blue heron fascinate me more on a lazy afternoon.

That’s good research in any book I write.dsc00466.jpg

Shorebird Love

DSC03093On our recent trip to Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday, many things disappointed me about Vilano Beach (on the Atlantic near St. Augustine) where my daughter lives. The disappearing beach from erosion, dredging the channel at Porpoise Point, driving on the beach, and building of mansions too close to fragile nesting areas for endangered species lead my list.

But one thing gave me gave me hope. Each morning when I walked on the beach I saw these shorebirds standing at attention in the surf. Let’s hope they find a place to nest this year.

Sorry for the short post tonight, but I’m embroiled in working on Native Lands, my next novel on Florida. I hope you enjoy the photo.

Coffee and a Chat

Good morning,

cropped-dsc01310.jpgI’ve been busy these days. The yard and garden work is nearly finished for the season. We’re eating cabbage, potatoes, and brussel sprouts from the garden but the rest of the yard is covered in snow. I have flower pots scattered around the yard needing attention. And the bird feeders need washing and filled. We don’t put them out when the garden is in full production because the bird seed attracts lots of wild animals to our yard. Instead we plant plenty of sunflowers so the birds feast on those seeds. But now it’s time to give our little feathered friends a bit of a treat.

This morning while my husband and I drank our coffee before starting the work day, he was poring over the seed catalog that came in the mail yesterday. And the cycle begins all over again. I’m spending time revising From Seed to Table and preparing it for a paperback release by January. S2T-6

My busyness these days involves my writing life. Today I stopped by a fellow writer and blogger’s site for a chat and a cup of coffee. Annamaria Bazzi has been hosting these Roundtable chats, and mine is #22.

Check it out to see what’s been occupying my time these days: http://www.annamariabazzi.com/2013/11/14/round-table-chat-22.

What’s going on in your garden as winter makes its sudden approach?

 

A Natural Bird Feeder

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

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My husband likes to plant sunflowers around the periphery of the garden. This beauty is a volunteer from years past. Soon it will develop seeds in the center and feed the songbirds in our yard.

We don’t leave out traditional bird feeders during spring and summer because it draws all kinds of wildlife who also love to munch on our garden produce. Instead, in the summer we have the sunflowers to give some natural food to my feathered friends.

 

The other flowers in the yard are flourishing as well. Some of them are perrenials and others are annuals I plant in pots around the patio. That way I can move them around for  sun, rain, and aesthetics.DSC02592 DSC02595

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy summer.