I still remember the before and after of Prince William Sound. I could almost audibly hear the pain and death from her shores. A piece of all of us died that day. After two and a half decades, oil is still found beneath the sands. The last visit I embarked on to the Sound seemed almost like an empty school during spring break. Pockets of lifelessness where the waters were once teeming. I remember taking a Zodiac with my father to the shores of various islands and combing the beach before the spill. Looking down just before the bow reached land, an incredible crystal clear aquarium right below us with a buffet of ocean life. It’s now so different. Mostly rocks, some mussels now, but not the same. The ecosystem in that area was very unique and dense with life. Extremely high tides created consistent food cycles and feeding times via upcycling, where the waves and current churn up particulates which the small plankton eat. The movement causes small fish to rush in which in turn bring in larger fish, herring then salmon, rockfish and then the larger apex fish lingcod and halibut. Some of the largest fish ever caught in Alaska were right off the SouthWest corner of Montague Island. Salmon Shark can grow over 500 lbs and due to their lofty title on the food chain, retain most of whatever toxins are in the sea.
Montague Island sits as the largest uninhabited island in the nation. Complete with deer, bears and the occasional misguided sea turtle. Life still carries on but with her scars of the past. It’s only recently that even the herring industry has slowly rebounded.
My heart sinks when I think of the Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That area will suffer for probably a century. My only hope is not just stricter regulation but a personal conviction of everyone involved in the industry that has devastated so much. If you haven’t read Shannon’s blog, please do. The devastation was not just in the ocean. There is no simple answer that does not shed claim from oil’s empire but if we are true to our desire to change, we will.
Time has a strange affect on events in our lives. I feel I’m looking through a glass of water when I look back 25 years to this day, March 24, 1989.
I’d left Seattle University and the Ballard Lochs on the M/V Westward heading north through the Inside Passage of British Columbia for the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka. No time in my life is etched as clearly as that spring. There is a certain magic about following Spring to Alaska. Per my not so scientific study, I’ve determined Spring moves at about 9 nautical miles an hour, about the same as the hundred foot boat I worked on. The inside passage is glorious. The bow of the boat pushes Technicolor into black and white. Winter gives up her fight to the brilliance of the whippersnapper called Spring. The smell is of thawing earth. Porpoises…
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