By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.
Environmental News Service
In spite of everything, I still believe
That people are really good at heart.
I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation
Consisting of confusion, misery and death.
Our oceans are quietly being destroyed by systematic large-scale pollution from routine marine activities that rarely make the headlines. Although large oil spills command extensive media coverage - for a few days anyway - they account for only about 10 percent of the oil and fuel that ends up in our waters each year.
Approximately 706 million gallons of oil winds up in the ocean each year from used engine oil being poured down the drain, runoff from city streets, air pollution particles and off-shore oil drilling. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez disaster, which gets media attention to this day, spilled 11 million gallons.
Unbelievably, many people still dump their used engine oil down drains and sewers. Five quarts of oil can contaminate millions of gallons of fresh or ocean water. Nearly 363 million gallons of this oil makes its way to our waterways each year. Also, a city of five million generates enough toxic runoff each year to equal a major oil tanker spill.
Over 137 million gallons of oil enters our oceans and other waterways from oily bilge water and other ship operations. Thirty-seven million gallons of oil spills each year from oil tankers and another 15 million spill from off shore oil rig operations.
Millions of gallons of jet and aircraft fuel spills each year, polluting earth and water. In 1985, 34,000 gallons of toxic jet fuel spilled into Des Moines Creek near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington, killing 50,000 salmon.
In October 1999, 112,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled into Ensenada Honda Harbor in Puerto Rico. Also in that same month, 12,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled from 10 derailed railroad cars in Talkeetna, Alaska.
More than 11,000 gallons of jet fuel has been floating on water located at the El Toro Marine Air Station in Southern California for several years. The base is scheduled to be turned over to the city when it is declared surplus by the military.
Remarkably, technologies to clean up fuel and oil spills are quite primitive. Absorbent pads floating on the water are the most common cleanup approach used, but this captures only a small fraction of the toxic material spilled. Some evaporates, becoming an air pollutant while some of it coats beaches and wildlife.
Countless animals slowly die from these spills. Fish are unable to breathe or are poisoned. Animals such as the sea otter, that rely on their fur to keep them warm, die from ingesting the oil as they desperately attempt to clean their fur. Millions of oil covered birds die as they loose their ability to fly or to keep warm.
Our ground water, drinking water and fish resources become contaminated as well.
Each day, millions and millions of boaters spill fuel into our oceans and waterways when they fill their fuel tanks. Those few drops, few cups or few gallons will be rationalized away as the boater claims, "It’s only a little fuel - how can that hurt anyone?"
In our information saturated world, it is challenging for urban dwellers to fully see the impact of individual actions. Many of us have come to rely on the media and government organizations to alert us to dangerous situations and to advise us on corrective actions.
Sadly, our government has developed its rules and standards to minimize effects on business interests and has designed regulatory procedures that view the environment as a secondary consideration.
More than ever before in our history, we as individuals must take responsibility for our actions and determine for ourselves what is best for the health of our children and our planet. We must use the native intuition and common sense we all have. Boaters must take the leadership in regulating their own actions. Those who use boats for their business have no excuse - they must take this responsibility seriously.
Those who use boats for pleasure and recreation must pay the price for their expensive hobby and not allow even one drop of fuel or oil to reach the water. There can be no acceptable amount of spillage.
All people who apply for a boating license, either for business or pleasure, should have to take a visualization test to make sure they can see that one gallon of spilled fuel from each of the millions of boaters means millions of gallons of spilled fuel into our waterways each day.
Citizens must act as enforcement agents as well. If you are taking a stroll at your local marina and see a slick of something on the water, call the authorities. If you see a boater refueling and spilling fuel, report it.
No one is going to tell us to stop and do the right thing. That is up to us. In fact, it always has been.
1. If you see a spill of any kind, you can use the form at www.cmc-ocean.org/mdio/report.php3 to record it and report it.
2. Current oil spill recovery technology is summarized in a student report at darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/global/sensem/S98/Aynechi/Oil.html
3. Find the data for much of the statistics mentioned above at seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/peril_oil_pollution.html
4. See summaries of spill incidents from 1999 at www.uscg.mil/hq/commandcenter/nrc/insum.htm
5. See a report on pressures on our coastal resources at state_of_coast.noaa.gov/siteindex/html/default.html
Demand that new technologies be funded and that regulations and enforcement be strengthened. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html
Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and the Environmental Education Programs Manger and the Manager of Discovery Park for the City of Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be found in his new home in Seattle, surrounded by thousands of boats spilling toxins into the beautiful waters every day. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his web site at www.healingourworld.com