Editor's note: After this story went to press, the Trump Administration announced that Florida was being removed from the list of states being considered for coastal drilling. Ten days later, on Jan. 19, news broke that Florida had not been removed from the list.
Every autumn, thousands flock to the Right Whale Festival in Jax Beach hoping to glimpse the majestic beasts that spend the colder months in our waters birthing and nursing their young. Today, there are fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales, giving them the terrible honor of being the most endangered whale species in North America and one of the rarest creatures in the world. If the Trump Administration has its way, skeletons will be the closest the festival goers get.
Historic overfishing—they are literally named for being the “right whale” to hunt—has certainly harmed the North Atlantic right whales’ plight, but today the greatest threats to right whales are fishing gear and watercraft. (And now, one “very stable genius.”) Drawn by the sound, right whales will swim directly into boats, at times with deadly results. In 2014, Newsweek reported that eight of 10 right whales bore scars from accidental entanglements with fishing rope, which can constrict so tightly that they die from lacerations.
Nevertheless, with no apparent regard to the health of our oceans generally or endangered marine life specifically, the Trump Administration has proved its fealty to the oil and gas industry by floating a proposal to reopen 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf to oil rigs—including our coast.
We cannot let this happen. Not only for the right whale, but for all the ocean life, for the fishing industry that depends on it, and for the beaches we so enjoy, as well as the coastal tourism industry.
To give you an idea of how awful this could be for Florida’s environment: Governor Rick “don’t say climate change” Scott opposes it. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill still weighs heavily on his and many Floridians’ minds, both in the Gulf region and beyond. (Though one does wonder how strongly opposed he’ll be once the oil and gas lobby comes a-calling with donations for his impending run for Bill Nelson’s senate seat; in which case, look for terms like “cautious,” “reasonable” and, of course, “jobs” to pepper a speech justifying drilling in an ocean near you.)
Oil rigs are unsightly and an oil spill would devastate our ocean and coastal areas, including miles of the St. Johns River, which sloshes back and forth with the tides. But, to be perfectly honest, absent a spill, offshore drilling would have little, if any, direct negative effects on you or me.
For marine life, however, an oil spill is only one of the hazards of offshore drilling. In recent years, we’ve come to better grasp how sound pollution, which is rapidly spreading across the ocean, wreaks havoc on sea creatures. Excessive sound is known to cause direct and indirect injury to aquatic species, many of whom rely on sound in much the same way humans rely on sight; you’ve probably heard the adage “a deaf whale is a dead whale.”
Excessive sound is known to cause sea creatures to alter their behavior, even put their lives in peril; the International Whaling Commission determined the mass stranding of 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar in 2008 was caused by ExxonMobil’s seismic airgun testing, which oil companies use to look for spots to drill, blasting away hundreds of times a day for weeks or months, at decibel levels high enough to increase background sound hundred-fold and penetrate hundreds of kilometers of ocean floor, according to a 2014 review published by the Convention on Biological Diversity.
It’s not just liberal editors and green-washed governors getting their panties in a twist over Trump’s cuckoo scheme to fill our sea with oil rigs; last June, Reps. John Rutherford, Al Lawson and Ron DeSantis joined more than 100 Congresspersons signing a bipartisan letter opposing Trump’s proposal to permit seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean. In a statement, Rutherford wisely said, “Our coastal economy should not be put at undue risk at a time when our booming oil and gas production is more than enough to meet our current energy needs.”
Sure, the way this statement is worded indicates that there could come a time when Rutherford would be willing to talk airgun testing, but he does not make any bones about his feelings on testing now, saying in a release, “Seismic testing … poses a direct threat to the [coastal] economies dependent on healthy ocean ecosystems for fishing, tourism, recreation, and the numerous businesses that rely on these industries.”
In all honesty, it doesn’t seem likely that Trump and his merry gang of billionaires who understand nothing of the lives of average Americans like us believe they’ll be able to open all our waters to the oil companies. He’s just using that same ol’ Trumpian “art” of asking for the solar system, hoping to shoot the moon. And he’s counting on we the people to get tired of negotiating and just give him what he wants.
Don’t do it.