So I have an idea that all of us should wrap our minds and efforts aroundâ€”keeping BP and the rest of Big Oil out of the Great Lakes. Permanently. Forever. How about putting a measure on the ballot this November to put a Great Lakes drilling ban in the Michigan Constitution where our sometimes feckless and always fickle politicians canâ€™t mess with it?
From the 1980s through the early to mid-90s, Michigan lawmakers have either been for or against drilling in the lakes. Ask Attorney General candidate Bill Schuette, who was for drilling the lakes in the late 80s before he was against it in the early 90s. Flip-flopping is as natural to some politicians as taking campaign money from Big Oil. Again, just ask Schuette, who has gotten loads of campaign cash from virtually every oil company around. And heâ€™s not alone.
But the Great Lakes are special and we really need to keep Big Oil out of them forever and that means putting some real political space between Big Oil and the potential for Great Lakes spills. That was really brought home to me this morning when I read that oil from BPâ€™s gusher in the Gulf is now just 50 or 60 miles from the Dry Tortugas, a small island archipelago 70 miles west of Key West.
Like the Great Lakes, the Dry Tortugas are an amazing but fragile place. The main island is a national park with a Civil War era fort surrounded by a moat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Coral reefs grow along the moat and you can snorkel or dive around the fort and see some of the most pristine waters and varieties of tropical and other fish you will find anywhere in North America. You can camp overnight on a beautiful white sand beach at the fort or anchor your sailboat to a mooring buoy and spend days on end at the island fort. Iâ€™ve done both and the experience each time was profoundly cool.
Itâ€™s also the site of the largest federally protected marine reserve in North America, a 100 square nautical mile area where all marine life is set aside from fishing and other extractive activities. The Dry Tortugas Marine Reserve was established following a hard-fought, decade-long battle between environmentalists and industry over the future of some of the most important fish spawning areas and deep-water coral reefs in North America.
For six years in the 1990s my work was to get the Dry Tortugas Marine Reserve established as part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. At the time the scientists, policy wonks, government officials and advocates like me who worked on this project felt deeply it was perhaps the most important work we would ever do in our lives. We believed that like on land there should be some areas of the ocean set aside for the enjoyment of future generations and to help maintain the diversity of marine life for all time.
But I woke up this morning to the news that BPâ€™s spill in the Gulf mayâ€”will likely?â€”destroy the Dry Tortugas as a wild place. Coral reefs and tropical fish canâ€™t survive oil and it isnâ€™t likely that spawning fish aggregations can either.
It also occurred to me that we in Michigan have it within our power to keep this from happening to our Great Lakes treasures and if we donâ€™t then shame on us. Future generations wonâ€™t remember that this was Water Week in Michigan. Hell, most of us wonâ€™t remember it next week. But if we make it our business to establish a permanent ban on drilling the Great Lakes then at least we know our kids’ memories wonâ€™t include oil spills that destroy Michigan’s special water places.
You can join the fight to protect our Great Lakes by signing up at www.progressmichigan.org