Category: Gulf of Mexico

Five Years Later

Five Years Later

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Summer 2010

I stood on the shore of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, early summer 2010 with tears streaming down my face. I had just called the hotline to report oil on the pristine, sugar-white sand. I thought that finally people would awaken and forge a new path of care and love for this Ocean planet. Five years have passed and the fervor to find and extract oil, at any cost, has escalated. And there are more spills worldwide, more toxic wastes generated by fracking operations and more earthquakes near fracking zones. The Atlantic coast is being opened to offshore drilling. The Arctic is open for drilling. Politicians are systematically trying to dismantle protected areas in states and federal lands.

Gulf of Mexico today
Gulf of Mexico today

As I sit on the sandy, Gulf beach watching the chocolate-colored waves, at least there is no benzene smell or globs of fizzing crude oil washing ashore. The dark water is from recent heavy rains. The salt breeze carries the smell of incense, an offering to the spirits of this magnificent body of water. I ask for forgiveness on behalf of all humans.

Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon
Common Loon resting on the beach this afternoon

I reflect on John Muir’s life, one that was dedicated to preserving sacred places of unparalleled natural beauty and the success that came from his unrelenting love of nature. He saw the Divine in nature and viewed it as a direct reflection of God. Places like Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rainer, Petrified Forest are a small sample of areas Muir helped preserve. He petitioned Congress for a National Park bill and in 1890 it passed.

Photograph Summer 2010...Shell Oil
Photograph Summer 2010…Shell Oil

“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling, keen lance rays of every color flashing, sparkling in glorious abundance, joining the plants in their fine, brave beauty-work–every crystal, every flower a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.” John Muir.

Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier
Photograph Summer 2010 Gulf State Park Pier

“Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air….Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.” John Muir.

Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman's body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth
Photograph I took Summer 2010. It reminds me of a woman’s body and so I call it the Rape of Mother Earth

Lately, as I’ve read about seemingly endless assaults on nature and attempts to sell it to the highest bidder for fossil fuel and about sonar testing that deafens cetaceans, sentencing them to death, I have become increasingly disturbed. The grief and despair I felt during the year I documented the oil disaster has been touched and the wound opened again and again.

Photography taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama
Photograph taken Summer 2010 Orange Beach, Alabama

I wrote this in August 2010:

“This morning I sat weeping for the birds, oysters, shrimp, crabs….for us all. As I breathed in the stillness of the dawn I felt sadness that we have collectively created such imbalance on this beautiful planet. Inhaling, exhaling…pausing to touch the grief within me….how did it get so messed up?

We have become so dependent on practices that destroy our world, there is no easy way to stop them. The oil industry is woven into the fabric of life in Louisiana along with the Gulf’s bounty. Maybe the problem began when we considered only what could be produced from the Gulf.

But it goes beyond the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis–way beyond to the collective intention to consume, to conquer without regard for what it does to the planet that, quite literally, gives us life. Where did this short-sighted way of thinking begin?

I weep for our ignorance and the destruction it keeps in motion. I weep for political polarization that puts power on a pedestal over compassion and caring. We are lost in fighting battles that pull us apart and weaken us.

When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?”

Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years
Common Loon friend that shared the beach with me today as I reflected on the past five years

Today, almost five years later, the same questions still haunt my mind every day. When will we stop and breathe together in silence? When we will awaken from our slumber and join hands to work to save our planet, to save ourselves?

Yet there is hope for there are still people who care, who love Nature and understand that humans are part of it, not above it. There are many who understand the necessity for living in balance and who grasp that the mindset of ‘more at any cost’ is no longer a valid way to successfully exist. We sell our own souls when we auction nature to the highest bidder.

Photograph from Summer 2010
Photograph from Summer 2010

So how can we stay positive? Hopeful? By reaching out to each other in love and by treading as gently as possible on this sacred Ocean planet. And practicing simple, yet collectively powerful steps such as these: turn off lights not in use; don’t use disposable plastic bottles; use water sparingly; adjust the thermostat two degrees and save energy and money; recycle; re-use; opt out of the mindset that new electronics must be purchased each time a new version is released; get by with less ‘stuff,’ buy locally-grown foods’ celebrate the beauty of nature each day; participate in efforts to make a positive difference.

Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge
Photograph today at Gulf State Park. During the oil disaster this area was saturated with fizzing, oily sludge

Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to celebrate beauty found in nature and in human hearts everywhere.

Planet Ocean

Planet Ocean

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Seventy-one percent of our planet is water. Two hundred miles offshore from each land mass we find international waters; therefore, 45% of the planet belongs to nobody.  Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, spoke last night in Pensacola and shared about the research they are doing in the Gulf of Mexico. He and Dr. Roger Payne, President of Ocean Alliance, talked about shining light on problem to effect change. Their presentation certainly gave a clear picture of problems our water planet is facing but they also gave us hope that collectively we can make positive change.

simonelipscomb (27)The Gulf of Mexico has 21 species of whales which include dolphin species. Sperm whales are included in our permanent Gulf residents. The largest apex predator in the Ocean calls the Gulf home.

simonelipscomb (28)Those present last night were reminded that the Gulf of Mexico is a microcosm of the larger Ocean system and that oceans are downhill from everything. Here are some interesting facts: 50-80% of all life is found in the Ocean; 1.2 trillion gallons of sewage and waste water are dumped in the Ocean every year; 14 billion pounds of garbage is dumped in the Ocean each year. Yuck!

simonelipscomb (2)The Gulf has an estimated sperm whale population of 1600 and this is the species Ocean Alliance is studying. One of the reasons is that apex predators are at the top of the food chain and therefore, like humans, suffer the most ill effects of toxins and contaminates. From whales benignly sampled all over the world, their research has shown that the Gulf of Mexico has the highest levels of metal toxins. Their research on whale cells cultivated on board the RV Odyssey proved that very low levels of these metals are toxic to cells. Imagine what the elevated levels are doing to sperm whales…to you…to me.

simonelipscomb (22)Dr. Payne reminded us that the health of the Ocean affects our lives. If life in the Ocean dies, we die. It’s really that simple. Over half of the oxygen for our planet comes from the sea. If phytoplankton that produces this oxygen is destroyed by contaminants none of us will survive.

simonelipscomb (8)I took pages of notes last night and wish I had done so today while visiting the Odyssey, their research vessel. I chatted with a few of the crew who entertained questions and showed visitors the high-lights of their work.

Area showing sperm whale population...note it is in the same area as the BP Deepwater Horizon
Area showing sperm whale population…note it is in the same area as the BP Deepwater Horizon

Those of you familiar with me know the Ocean has claimed me as Her own and I simply try to be present and show up when opportunities are presented. Of course I was excited to learn about whale research but want to know this: Why aren’t there more organizations studying whales in the Gulf? Dr. Payne reminded us that apex predators such as sperm whales are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, giving us very clear indicators for not only Ocean health but human health. Do we just not want to know or maybe I should say who doesn’t want us to know what’s happening?

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Here’s a bottom line for those of us who live in the coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico: Nickel and chromium levels are alarmingly high. Can you guess where these heavy metals can come from? If you guessed crude oil you are right. (sigh)

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Dr. Payne concluded his presentation last night reminding us that people need to lead and we do that by the choices we make. The greatest illusion corporations want us to believe is that we are powerless and at their mercy. My friends, we are the masses, we have the power to instigate change and it begins by demanding change as a united group that puts the health of the planet, and thus humans, before profit. Every time we spend a dollar we are sending a message. What message do we choose to send? What do we believe? What do we create by our intention?

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Hydrophone cable is pulled behind the vessel and the crew listens for the very loud of sperm whales to determine location
Hydrophone cable is pulled behind the vessel and the crew listens for the very loud click…click…click of sperm whales to determine location

I could share facts about the work Ocean Alliance is doing in the Gulf of Mexico or specifics about their research vessel. I could tell you what I learned about their sampling methods and how data is used. You can find all of that on their website. The only thing I can really do is simply share how I felt listening to the program last night and spending a couple hours on their  vessel today.

simonelipscomb (24)Since documenting the BP Deepwater Horizon I have met some of the most incredible human beings who genuinely care about the planet and all life here. But sometimes when I read the never-ending depressing news about the latest species going extinct or the level of pollution or when I pick up garbage on my sea turtle walks, I feel very hopeless. Humans can be incredibly compassionate and caring and they can also be stupid and mean beyond understanding. I struggle with ongoing sadness and grief at what we do to this glorious Ocean planet. And then…well…then I’m guided to meet people who genuinely care and are working very hard to gather evidence that helps educate the rest of us..that can help species find greater levels of protection…or maybe even help set aside sanctuaries to protect vulnerable species.

When I meet others who share a passion for the Ocean and all life within it, I feel as if I have met family. We need to remember that all of us are family…in the truest sense of what family means. So tonight, as I try to put into words my gratitude for people like those who work with Ocean Alliance, I breathe a little easier. My heart’s a little bit lighter.

simonelipscombHere’s an example of how it can work: My artist cousin Donna emailed me a flyer about the Ocean Alliance program last night. I sent it out to several friends. Six of us showed up because she sent me a flyer. There were many more people there but think about that. If each of us connects with others to create positive change, the effort is magnified because of connections, networking, caring. One doesn’t equal one. One equals six…or twenty…or more! The more we share our ideas, information and even our emotions about what’s happening to our planet, ourselves, the greater possibility for change. Now is not the time to give up but rather the most important time to take magnificent care of our Planet Ocean.

Some of the visitors to RV Odyssey today...learning about our Gulf of Mexico and our friends, sperm whales
Some of the visitors to RV Odyssey today…learning about our Gulf of Mexico and our friends, sperm whales

Here’s just a few things we can each do on a daily basis: use re-usable water bottles and STOP purchasing plastic bottled water; use re-usable shopping bags and refuse plastic garbage bags; stop consuming so much ‘stuff’; recycle recycle recycle; grow our own food organically or purchase organic produce; stop using chemical fertilizers and don’t fertilize near waterways; eat less meat and use more vegetable protein; vote only for those who care about our planet and if you can’t find anybody that cares run for office and be a pivotal point for positive change; turn off lights; adjust the thermostat to save energy; write letters with positive ideas to corporate CEO’s; form support groups for positive change; reach out to neighbors to encourage positive change; get outside and reconnect with nature; driver slower…it saves gas; use LED light bulbs for amazing energy savings and looooong-lasting bulbs; turn off the water when you brush your teeth; keep showers short; turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater; carpool; combine trips for errands to use less fuel; ride a bicycle for errands; use energy-efficient appliances; pick up trash on beaches and near other waterways and ditches; pat yourself on the back for trying to do one thing every day to help the planet…after all, you’re helping yourself when you do.

I encourage everyone to share this blog post and to visit the Ocean Alliance webpage as well as their Facebook page. They need our support and deserve it for the incredible work they are doing to help our Gulf of Mexico…to help us.

simonelipscomb (4)For those still eating apex predators such as swordfish, blue fin tuna and even grouper here’s something to think about strictly from a human health perspective. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) degrade immune systems and can cause serious health consequences for species consuming them. They are man-made chemicals that find their way into the Ocean as runoff from everything upstream. Microscopic diatoms are contaminated by EDCs and since they are at the bottom of the food chain contaminate everything that eats them…and then the organisms and fish eating them that eat other fish all the way up the food chain build-up higher and higher levels of these toxins. So the top predators, like swordfish, tuna, humans, sperm whales get the highest doses of EDCs. The crew put together a little formula to consider when eating a one pound steak of swordfish…it takes 50 ten ton trucks of diatoms to create that one pound steak of swordfish. It’s like your liver (the detoxifying organ in the body) is hooked up to that many diatoms…and if they are polluted as well as other fish further up the food chain, you my friend have just dosed yourself with some pretty nasty chemicals. Maybe your swordfish didn’t eat contaminated fish who didn’t eat contaminated diatoms….but how can you tell?

Here’s a few side effects of EDCs: Increased rate of breast cancer, undescended testicles in boys, increased rate of prostate cancer, increased aggression in kids and increased rates of ADD and decreased sperm counts. If you’re really into swordfish and tuna and grouper…at least know what you are doing to your body. And what is happening in our Ocean….our one planetary Ocean.

How Can I Keep From….Smiling

How Can I Keep From….Smiling

simonelipscomb (1)I felt the dolphins before I parked my car. Before my feet reached the sugar-white sand or my face felt the warmth of the pre-dawn salt spray, I sensed their sleek bodies slicing through sea water. When I crested the top of the path leading over the dune the first thing I saw was several dorsal fins moving up and down through golden water. It was perhaps the most glorious morning I’ve ever spent as a sea turtle volunteer.

simonelipscomb (4)Clouds were building all around. The towering tops of some reflected the sun, not yet above the horizon. Their flat bottoms hung close to the Gulf as if teasing the surface with the sweet kisses of raindrops.

As the light increased the surface of the water turned that metallic slate-blue-turquoise highlighted by flecks of orange or gold or peach, depending on the angle. This is when the shore is at its most magic, at least in my mind.

As I strolled the sand looking for sea turtle tracks and gazing at the magnificent clouds I felt immense peace….and joy. At one point I realized I was grinning widely and even laughing at the beauty of it. A dear friend and teacher recently told me the Ocean had claimed me as Her own. Never have those words felt so true.

simonelipscomb (6)I thought back to the decision that brought me back to the Alabama Coast. My significant other had decided to move back to Iraq and I didn’t want to spend any more time alone in the overly-large home I owned on a mountain in Asheville. I had also grown weary of snow and ice and howling winds that seemed constant in the winter. I knew it was time to sell the house and move…but where? The man in my life followed his Path to work in Iraq. Where was my Path leading me?

I thought about purchasing a smaller home in the Asheville area at a lower elevation. I pondered moving to North Georgia. But the example set by my partner made me think…where is my heart calling me? When I put it that way, I narrowed it down. A coast. And even though I explored other coastal areas, it was this beautiful place of my birth that tugged on my heart.

simonelipscomb (5)There is no magic ball that tells me what’s next, if there will be a man and partnership in my life, what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living in a year..five years . But I do know this…I am happy. I am joy-full. I am smiling in my heart. The Ocean has claimed me as Her own. I rejoice to have such a mighty Mother, Teacher, Friend.



Things I Don’t Understand

Things I Don’t Understand

simonelipscombLooking at the dwindling health of the planet has me scratching my head in confusion. During my sea turtle volunteer work, in the colorful dawn hour, questions come to me as I pick up trash left behind or washed up. I’ve compiled a short list of things I don’t understand. Perhaps you have some you can add.

simonelipscomb (7)1. People who depend on the Gulf of Mexico as a resource for their livelihood in the way of commercial seafood fisheries and use the Gulf as a dump. Last week I found all manner of debris washed up….yellow bags of salty brine, thick gloves, bailers, large floating buoys. Why would the people depending on the water dump their wastes into the sea?

simonelipscomb (18)2. Parents who sit on the beach with their kids and leave cigarette butts, beer bottles, metal caps and trash on the beach. What are they teaching their precious children? Cigarette butts are made of the same material as plastic bags…they don’t decompose. Bottles are made of sand…they won’t decompose but may break and cut said children. Metal caps will decompose after rusting and perhaps cutting children. Styrofoam plates, plastic bottles and other trash…takes decades or longer to be ground into smaller pieces that are ingested by sea life which we, in turn, ingest and therefore have toxic chemicals added to our already challenged DNA resulting in genetic changes and ill health.

SimoneLipscomb (31)3. People who toss hundreds of feet of monofilament line overboard. This has the potential to harm countless marine species…think about it. Guesstimates are about 500 years for it to decompose.

simonelipscomb (1)4. Why politicos and city hierarchies put money before care of the beaches…the same beaches that attract all of those tourists and tourists dollars. I don’t need to say anything more on this one. I just don’t ‘get it.’

simonelipscomb (4)5. Why is the health of the many ecosystems put dead last on most priority lists when it is the complete basis for health and life for humans? I don’t understand why this is so difficult to understand. It’s factual. (14)So while I’m out there looking for mama sea turtle tracks and picking up garbage that fills bags every time I go, these questions come to mind. I’ve yet to find a real answer and I’m left with many things I don’t understand.

Loving the Earth

Loving the Earth

photoLoving the Earth: Creating a Conscious Relationship with Our Planet

A slight breezed carried my SUP board downriver as I stopped paddling to watch a pair of bald eagles drag their talons along the surface of the water. Nearby great egrets crowned cypress trees, their white plumage dazzling against the background of blue sky. A mullet splashed in the mud-tinted water of the Magnolia River and brought my attention back from sky to earth. As my gaze turned downward a brown pelican folded her wings, as if in prayer, and dropped from the sky close to my board. All around life expressed in a beautiful ballet of balance with this lone patron admiring the dance. Bliss seemed shared by all but perhaps it might be better named communion.

Osprey...image taken in Florida last winter

One never knows what will be the call that brings us to our heart’s work. While I loved nature since childhood, I never felt the commitment…the calling…to dedicate my life’s work to it until the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It felt as if everything in life stopped so I could focus entirely on the Gulf Coast and the amazing life in our coastal ecosystems. During the first days of oil washing ashore I remember thinking the end of the world had arrived. How could this happen?

This should never happen anywhere on our beautiful planet...let's unite in love and compassion and create the world we want to live in and leave for generations to come.

It’s easier to believe everything is okay than to pay attention to what’s really happening. I shared my book containing oil spill images with a cousin the other day that lives in Pensacola and she was shocked to see the reality I documented. There are people who live in Gulf Shores who still believe it wasn’t bad…that there wasn’t oil mixed with dispersant and it wasn’t fizzing in tidal pools of tiny fish gasping to their last breath. I know because I saw it first hand and stood on the beach weeping for every life I saw pass.

simonelipscomb (18)The most difficult thing I have ever experienced was witnessing the spill and its effects on innocent life which included small children playing in oily waters…so polluted that the benzene burned my eyes and throat. Video and photographs in my library document everything I saw but they can never share the true experience of grief beyond anything I’ve known.

A friend and mentor reminded me, during the first year of the spill, that there was a reason I was being called to witness the horror even though I might not understand why. Over four years have passed and I am more convinced that the only way to heal our broken planet is to heal our relationship with It and to heal our relationship with each other. That means healing our own lives.

SimoneLipscomb (8)The only solution I have found is to practice love…love as compassion…love as respect…love in the purest form of opening to surrender, to service.

When wild animals make contact with me I always feel so joyful!

Love for the planet requires opening the self. When we risk the deep opening of human heart to planetary heart we know the elation of unspeakable joy, of the heart’s expanding in answer to beauty. We also know the experience of grief and heartbreak when places, wildlife and humans we love are destroyed or profoundly injured.

One of my favorite places to celebrate life is under the Salt Pier on the island of Bonaire

Celebrating the beauty of the Magnolia River and other places of natural beauty relieves the grief that comes from being aware of the trials our planet is experiencing. There is resilience in nature and my hope is we will practice better stewardship before a non-reversible tipping point is reached.

SimoneLipscomb (25)As I remain engaged with nature’s rhythms through simple, daily observation and intention, I am drawn more deeply into partnership with the Earth. If we collectively open our hearts to loving this sacred planet, we can create a bond with each other that will transform darkness and create positive, lasting change.