“A line in the sand” takes on new meaning…

11 Jul

I was raised East Texas, but my mother’s family is entirely from the Deep South, mostly Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.  My fondest memories of spending time visiting out that way involved our trips to the beach.  Once a year, all the women in the family (grandma, her sisters, their daughters, cousins and more cousins) would pile into a few cars and make the drive to Gulf Shores, AL, Destin, FL, or somewhere in between, where the beaches were white sugar-sand and the water was crystal clear.  I’d spend the days on the beach playing in the surf, collecting shells, building sandcastles, and swimming until I couldn’t move.  In the evenings, we would gather on the porch and listen to my grandma and great aunts tell stories from when things were simpler; sometimes we heard stories of the great depression and how they used a coke-bottle for a doll; other times they would tell their grandpa’s stories of the civil war, or just get lost in their memories of sisters tormenting each other as they grew up.

Those beaches were, and still are, a part of my growing up, our family tradition, and the culture and fabric of life in Alabama.  I can’t help but wonder what those beaches look like right now, or what they will look like by this fall.  As an environmental microbiologist, I’m aware of a huge network of scientists working on the issue of microbial breakdown of petroleum and hydrocarbons (oil) which started long before this spill took place, even before the Valdez.  Of course, the high-end estimates for the Exxon Valdez were  as high as 38 million gallons of oil, while the best guesses in the Gulf right now are well over double that (see the Oil Spill Tracker for the most recent numbers). 

 It’s blatantly clear at this point that no amount of skimming or flaming is going to remove the massive quantities of oil being delivered to the gulf waters, reefs, swamps, and sands of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. So, then what?  We need to begin to understand what our choices are in terms of the types of remediation and reclamation plans that would be most effective and efficient.  But we also have to “monitor” or track the success and efficacy of the remediation efforts and understand when the waters and beaches are safe again. 

My next posts will review various microbial bioremediation technologies with potential utility in the BP disaster in the gulf.

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