Oil, water and the uncertain future of our beloved Gulf Coast
I’m often asked what brought me to Florida and my answer is always the same; Florida brought me to Florida. It’s as if the expected answer is that a job or maybe a job transfer is surely what brought me here but it wasn’t. Ever since I was a small child, I loved nature, the mountains and the sea.
There was a time I remember many years ago when I was a visitor here and as I left to return to my home state of Louisiana, I stopped off on Gulf Islands National Seashore between Navarre beach and Pensacola, that long stretch of pristine white sand and emerald water, with not a person in sight, I looked at how beautiful it all was and I mourned the fact that I had to leave. I knew that day, that I would return permanently as a resident.
Santa Rosa Beach in Walton County has been my home for the last twenty years. I’ve had the pleasure to explore and photograph the common places like the beach, and the not so common places. Florida offers amazing insights into one of the most ecologically rich and diverse environments in our country – places like Florida Caverns, Torreya State Park, or the Garden of Eden trail in Bristol and many others.
If you have lived here or even visited for any length of time, you no doubt have encountered a summer thunderstorm, a tropical storm maybe or even a powerful and threatening hurricane. To witness these natural occurrences is an awesome experience.
But lately there has been a storm off the coast that none of us were prepared for – not a natural storm that modern meteorology can predict the severity and direction of, but a storm of human making, a storm that none of us have ever experienced. As I write this, having just returned from a wonderful day at the beach, our beaches are open and it is a beautiful day. But somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico there is a large toxic slick of crude oil threatening the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Its potential impact on so many levels is staggering. It has already affected the economies of the coast, threatens to damage sensitive marshlands and wildlife and possibly the worst part of this whole scenario is that the leak has yet to be stopped.
This tragedy has raised so many questions, hopefully closed many doors, opened others and awakened many citizens to a reality that we never dreamed we would have to deal with. I’m not much of an activist, or a political pundit, although I have strong opinions at times, I try to keep them to myself. But let’s face it, our country is on the horns of a dilemma. We are heavily dependent on oil and I don’t think that many of us truly understand the hundreds or perhaps thousands of products that we manufacture from oil.
Chances are certain plastic components on your computer that you are reading this article on were made from petroleum. I worked on an oil refinery in my younger days. There is nothing pretty about it. It’s a tangled mass of heat, volatility, steam, noise and aromas that you never quite forget. It has provided my family and relatives with a good and secure living, but it was not in my future. Alternative, renewable, energy must be pursued, but we didn’t arrive at this addiction to oil overnight and we won’t be delivered from its grip in an instant either. When the pursuit of a dollar threatens to do permanent damage to our environment and wreck economies and livelihoods, I think it’s a wake-up call to everyone and we have reached the point where the risk far outweighs the perceived reward.
I encourage you to get out and enjoy nature, wherever you are. It will serve to relax and calm the mind like nothing else, and be thankful that you still can.
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” – John Muir
Brandan Babineaux is a resident and photographer in Walton County. To learn more about Brandan and his extraordinary work, go to http://www.brandanbabineaux.com