Jun 19, 2010

Oil Spill Map

If you're trying to follow the oil spill in the Gulf and are having a hard time dealing with the news coverage, I recommend this mapping tool provided by NOAA. As a geographer and GIS consultant, I'm happy to see a publicly accessible GIS for the oil spill. I've only spent a little time using it but I found it  robust in terms of the breadth of the data and their interpretability. Gaps and limitations are noticeable but for such a large scale, I'm impressed.

One thing that struck me was how we have areas of heavily oiled marsh or beach, but somehow the National Marine Fisheries Service's Emergency Fishery Closure line is well outside those areas. Noticing that the line stays about the same distance from land, I'm guessing that the agency's jurisdiction begins at X nautical miles, before which some other agency (state?) is responsible. Does that seem plausible?

I don't eat animals, so I'm less interested in the "seafood" side of the oil spill. My interest is piqued though, especially since my best friend (also vegetarian) works at a local restaurant that serves shrimp flown in daily from the Gulf of Mexico. Ignoring that their sourcing is the epitome of unsustainable, it's worrisome to think that these shrimp come from the coast of west Louisiana, where the vendor says  there has been no oil. But I look at this map  and can see that there has been oil in the area. I can't see any indication of the dispersant's reach, but I imagine that if there are dead dolphins and sea turtles washing up on those west Louisiana beaches, that the shrimp aren't particularly safe.

On the one hand, we're worried about the economy the region, so we want to support any fishers who might be able to continue. On the other hand, a dead fishery is a dead fishery: Perhaps we should leave surviving critters alone. Perhaps not as there are reports that sea animals are crowding together, thus depleting oxygen in the water. Regardless, I can't imagine eating the critters from the area, at least not at the moment. Science Magazine reports that it currently takes 7 -10 days to determine levels of deadly oil derived compounds in seafood. Are we to assume that shrimpers are holding their stock while these tests are being done? Given that the restaurant in question flies the shrimp in daily, I'll guess that they are not tested.

Instead we're relying on experts to declare areas safe for fishing. I'd like to think that this is being done cautiously, but pressure to keep the regional economy going is evident. I guess I'm glad I don't have to wonder if my own food is dangerous because I don't eat animals, and even if I did, I wouldn't eat them from so far away. Perhaps the $20 billion escrow fund for affected parties will encourage fishers to test their stock to see if they can get compensation rather than continue fishing. Here's hoping.

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