Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NEWSFLASH: Mobile Bay polluted?

I sat down with the intention of following up on my oh-so-exciting skin care adventure, but after a quick check on Facebook, I cannot sit silent, knowing what I know.

I grew up in Mobile, Alabama.  One of the finest things about that town is that it sits smack on a gorgeous bay.

There are also rivers with its wildlife and mystique. 

And all of it opens up into the beautiful Gulf of Mexico...

...where there really is some of the whitest, powder-soft sand on this entire globe. 

Probably the best thing about growing up in Mobile were the summers.  Yes, they were one hundred degrees.  Yes, there were mosquitoes.  But those summers “over the bay” and “at the gulf” are imprinted into my very being.  Waterskiing, warm nights on the wharf, Jubilees, 360s on Waverunners, sleeping on screened-in porches, and yes, never buying a bathing suit with white in it, because after being in the bay, it’d be a deep beige. 

Growing up in Mobile really is the stuff of stories.  "Idyllic" is the word that comes to mind.  After living in many a land-locked town and many a too-busy city, I know now how ridiculously fortunate I was that Boston Whalers were our vehicles at age 13 and dropping a ski at age 10 was the norm. 

But then I glimpse Facebook, and I’m reminded.  We can love it, we can enjoy it, but really it’s not ours.   

Let me explain.  (And I must give TreePeople, the non-profit environmental organization where I used to work, props for this, as I learned it while there.  Thanks, Peeps.)

Mobilians live in what is called a watershed.  Think: gravity.  Think:  all the rivers that are connecting to the bay which then connects to the gulf make a watershed.  And all the creeks and streams that lead into these rivers.  And all the streets with their gutters that lead into the creeks and streams. 

Here's a picture that depicts the watershed for Mobile Bay.

In Los Angeles, they have cute little plaques over the storm drains (aka, the “holes” in the curbs in our streets) with dolphins on them to remind people that we live in a watershed and must do our best to protect our watershed.

What happens when it rains is that the Earth is getting a good cleansing.  In the old days when trash didn’t exist, rain would fill the creeks and flow into the rivers and flow into the bays and oceans where clouds would accumulate and then the whole cycle would start over again.  Nice and clean…and natural.

What is happening today is obviously a different story.  Here’s what I saw on Facebook today that sparked this blog:

These days, our precious water isn't ours.  It belongs to Styrofoam.  It belongs to BP’s gushing oil.  It belongs to anyone who throws a beer can, not only out of their boats, but also out on the street, say, in Birmingham, Alabama.

A disgusting disgrace.  This is embarrassing, disheartening, and sickening to me.  Mobile’s most valuable asset is being treated as a garbage dump.  Let me say it again:  Most Valuable Asset… Garbage Dump.

And who’s to blame?   Rednecks who toss their McDonald wrappers into the water?  Maybe a garbage truck took a wrong turn into the river!  Or, oh, I know, Wal-mart already had too many Styrofoam cups on their shelves, so they had a big party, and they forgot to bring the garbage bags. 

Uh.  No.  Have you ever let a piece of plastic fall on the street and not pick it up?  Have you ever bought a drink out of a Styrofoam cup?  Have you ever sat there and watched someone else litter without saying anything to them?

This may seem extreme to some of you, but it’s not.  We have a major TRASH crisis on our hands on this planet. 

My mind flashes to Wall-E, the Pixar movie, that gives a strong message about this.   And if we don’t start doing something about it N-O-W, we are literally going to be swimming in it.  Oh, wait.  That’s already happening. 

I feel a need to be clearer.  Stay with me here.

Say a trash can, waiting on a curb, accidentally gets dumped over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Say no one bothered to clean it up before one of our afternoon showers comes through.  What happens to the trash?  It flows into the gutters with the rest of the rain.  Then it makes its way into the storm drains.  The storm drains need to be there, as pavement does not allow water to permeate, and the water has to flow somewhere, or it will flow into our houses.  So all the water and the trash goes into the storm drain which leads to the nearest river which eventually leads to Mobile Bay or the Gulf of Mexico.  So, not only is Dog River getting pollution from the folks who live or play there, but it’s getting it from the entire state and beyond! 

Okay, so the trash can example is just to give you a mental picture.  Try this one:  Think of how many people there are in the state.  How many of them litter?  Probably quite a few because our education system here is not the best and research shows that educated people litter less.  Therefore, there are a lot of people littering.  And say all those people litter just one day that week.  Just one item.  But how many people are doing it?  Adds up.  I’d say it was equal to a whole lot of trash cans dumped over, wouldn’t you? 

Sad to say it, but Mobile’s at the end of all that litter.  Well, almost.  Actually, there is no end.  The Gulf and then the ocean is the end.  But that’s a whole other (very-linked) issue.

Because this is what it looks like in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific -- right now!   It's called the
Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the main culprit is plastic.

[A friend, Anna Cummins, and her husband, Marcus Eriksen, have taken this issue on in its entirety.] 

The point is, y’all, it’s up to us.  It’s up to the people of Mobile, the ones teaching their five-year-olds to ski, the ones having a gin and tonic on the wharf, the ones bringing back the biggest catch of the rodeo, to take care of this situation. 

It starts with personal responsibility.  When you drive a gas-guzzling SUV or when you don't carpool, you are telling the oil companies it’s okay to keep drilling without giving a damn on how it affects our waters.  When you buy a stack of Styrofoam cups or cases of plastic water bottles, you are risking years and years and years of the trash that came from one little drink sitting in our landfills or floating on our rivers or doing who-knows-what to our oceans.  When you throw a cigarette butt out your window in Auburn, you are basically using our gorgeous beaches as an ashtray. 

I know there is a general consensus among a lot of folks that think that little actions don’t make a difference.  But they do!  If everyone did the little actions, it adds up to a lot.

Isn’t a river full of litter proof of that?   Isn't an OCEAN full of litter proof of that?  Aren't landfills after landfill after landfill proof of that?

It CAN be turned around.  I know so many people that love and cherish our waters.  If all of those people began to really take care of it, nothing would get in the way.  If there is one thing Mobilians have, it’s passion.  Passion plus educating yourselves plus speaking up and caring could just do the trick.  No, it will do the trick. 

And when you’re having that gin and tonic on the wharf as the sun goes down, knowing that you did all that you could do to protect the bay or the Gulf for this generation and the generations to come, that cocktail, my friends, will taste all the better. 

Here is a good article I found from WKRG News on how you can help.  And check out Mobile Baykeeper for volunteer opportunities. 

For my Angeleno friends, here is what TreePeople is doing in LA in regards to the watershed.  Also check out Heal the Bay Or call Anna!  She lives there!

Please post comments if you care to elaborate further, and give people tips on how they can contribute.  What other organizations are out there?  What else are people doing?  What do you think?????

This is a vast topic, and discussion is one step in the right direction! 


JWH said...

Great post Katie! Wow, great writing and great message. Thank you for it.

One other organization to check out is Dog River Clearwater Revival, at and

kshammond1 said...

Thanks for writing this Katie!!!