It was such an idyllic beach. Tall, impossibly thin palm trees towered against a robin egg sky; a mountain backdrop hung behind us; and on the horizon, just visible through the soft mist, we saw what looked like ghost ships sailed by pirates of old. The wildlife was spectacular. Hundreds of pelicans clustered like wildflowers. The occasional sandpiper skedaddled by, tiny legs humming. And sea lions! Not the lounging sort that pile atop one another at the pier; we saw active sea lions swimming close to shore, frolicking with the sea birds, putting on a show for us. I hardly noticed the smell of asphalt.
Until I stepped on the tar ball the size of a plum. My husband watched my son, who was driving his trucks through the soft sand, while I ran to the public bathrooms. It took twenty minutes of hard scrubbing with soap and frigid water before the disgusting, sticky black goo came off my skin.
“Where do you think it came from?” I asked my husband. “China, maybe?” I didn’t think it was a stupid question. I know a little something about traveling pollution. Mercury from China’s unregulated coal industry has found its way to California. Just as radiation and rubble from Japan’s Fukishima disaster washed up on our shores. And remember Chernobyl? Washington State recorded Uranium in its soil shortly after that fateful reactor blew into an atmosphere shared by us all.
“You don’t have to look very far to see where it’s coming from,” my husband said. And he pointed to the pirate ships. Of course they weren’t ghosts drifting through the mist. I knew that.
But what I didn’t know until just then, is that we were looking at offshore oil platforms. Drilling along the California coast. I’m not talking about a platform or two, off at sea somewhere, out of sight. These were ugly and copious, running the length of the horizon, rendering it impossible to watch an unadulterated sunset. How sad for Santa Barbara.
But more than that, how sad for America, our country, our motherland, under attack from within. As the landlocked minions and the short-sighted profiteers yell, “Drill baby, drill,” tar balls wash up on our beaches. And then what? It becomes ordinary. Expected. Of course hanging out on a California beach means stepping on a tar ball. The oil platforms won’t just leave one day. They are here. Forever.
A sure way to find a tar ball is to go barefoot. We saw hundreds that day. Some were the size of marbles. The largest measured seven inches in diameter. A cursory glance at the large, polished rocks on the beach, and you might not even notice the tar. It almost blends in—black stones mingling with the driftwood, the new normal. But once you know what to look for, they are everywhere, more plentiful than conch shells, just an unlucky footstep away. If I’d been inclined to pick them up, I could’ve filled a potato sack.
So dearest Florida, listen up. This could be you sometime very soon. Talk of drilling in the Florida Gulf is reaching fever pitch, and the oil tycoons are wolves, pacing the coastline, waiting for their moment. My favorite Florida beaches are teeming with heron, gulls, and sand hill cranes, spoonbill and silly blue crabs. There are no mountains, but the fine white sand stretches for miles, and the horizon is clear. For now. So rise up and fight to save your coastline, because when you smell that asphalt, and when you step on those tar balls, and when you see those ghost ships that never, ever move, it will be too late.