EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL – 25TH ANNIVERSARY
I’m not sure if anyone gets it. I drive through Thompson Pass and check out dozens of mechanized skiers who are burning fuel as if there had never been an oil spill that devastated this region. Back then global warming wasn’t even a phrase, and today this issue seems to be completely lost on many in the ski industry. I guess the ultimate paradox is how Valdez has become synonymous with oil guzzling skiing above Prince William Sound while also being home to the spill. Some communities change for the better in light of events like floods and tornadoes. But here, it’s actually gotten worse.
I remember the spill. I was a witness.
I remember first, the Tanker Prince William Sound which, in 1981, went adrift in a full gale, fully loaded, and was blown around the Sound for eighteen hours before regaining power minutes before running aground on Glacier Island. I was there as a Vessel Traffic Controller in the U.S. Coast Guard watching it unfold on my radar. God, we were so lucky.
I recall March 24, 1989 and the 5:30 a.m. call from my friend in the shipping industry telling me a tanker had struck and was stuck on Bligh Reef leaking oil.
I recall seeing the first videos and faces of those who returned from Bligh Reef that day in their boats, leaving oil which had stuck to the hulls all across the small boat harbor.
I recall expressing my outrage to Exxon ….in person, more than once.
I recall having a merganser take a chunk out of my nose as I was carefully cleaning crude from its feathers, one of many birds I like to think I helped.
I recall working the marine pathology lab assisting the pathologist in necropsies on hundreds of dead sea birds and mammals. There was a female lab tech who went “mental” after a week at the lab and was carrying around a dead, but fully developed baby otter on her shoulder in a maternal way. I hope she recovered from her experience. I have been a vegetarian since that month long adventure.
I recall leaving a “well-paying fun job” to drive a boat on the spill that summer. The boat was 17′ long and I lived, cooked and ate on it. I spent five months in and around Ground Zero on Eleanor and Knight Islands providing shoreside logistical support to clean-up crews covered in oil. Brutal work.
I recall the local ski hill had to shut down because everyone went to work on the spill. I was coaching the little wrestlers program at the time. As we flew the team to Kodiak for the State Tournament in mid-April, we flew over miles and miles of still-heavily oiled beaches and sheans as far as one could see, even to Kodiak.
I recall being a lab tech on a hatch-rate study of pink salmon and the spill. In five years working at the hatchery, that was the first time I had seen two-headed alevin, the life stage just after a salmon hatches. In the oil effected tray of eggs, half died before they hatched.
I recall the social upheaval in Valdez that led to high numbers of families breaking up and, of course, the fractured community dealing with the influx of 10,000 unemployed and unemployable.
And now, I can recall when all those glaciers that are way back there used to be right here.
With that said, I do what I’ve always done. Keep it simple with as little impact on the environment as possible. But some in the industry just won’t change despite our past (oil spills) and our future (global warming). We all need to take a serious look at how we winter recreate and how it impacts the future. Every effort counts in reducing our dependence on oil and starting with motorized recreation seems like a no-brainer. I guess the other irony is that those who love snow most are contributing to the decline of snow worldwide. I just don’t get that as a skier. One thing’s for sure, we need more awareness in the industry, not another heli-ski commercial made in Alaska to sell whiskey in Atlanta. To me, as a witness to one of the largest environmental disasters of our time, it’s a pretty simple choice.
“Oh beautiful for spacious skies……….”
Whistlers-March 24, 2014