Thursday, April 28, 2005

Extinction signals End Times

Just got back from Florida. It was one of those: "unemployed + stuck = roadtrip." Fueled on Fresca and Fig Newtons, I got to Melbourne Beach around 9 a.m., just in time to see a school of squid surrounded by pods of leaping dolphin. The morning sun reflected on the water like diamonds while a giant turtle peaked it's head up from the small surf. This might sound storybook to if you didn't grow up here. I expect such moments, feeling vaguely abandoned if I don't get one on my infrequent sojourns.

It's a classic Floridian interlude. Welcoming and ephemeral. The dolphin feed for only a few minutes longer. Later I would see a family of manatee playing in a lagoon. We called them to our kayaks and they offered their bellies for petting just like my dogs.

By coincidence, the local newspaper that day had announced the "downgrading" of much of Florida's wildlife including the manatee from "endangered" to "threatened."

Great news because everyone needs these experiences. There is no Santa Claus, Mickey or Pluto. Manatee and dolphin are real. You can touch them. Children taken out to meet these gentle giants are suddenly angels -- no sand throwing or temper tantrums.

We crave communion with the natural world. We vacation to heal the wounds our soul suffers as we participate in our economic lives -- largely involved in pursuit of money over nature. We approach Her with guilt and are humbled by her forgiveness.

I don't think I'm alone on this, but I think if there is a God, there is no other explanation for these creatures but to TEST our worthiness before Him (or Her -- yeah, go ahead with the hippie cracks -- but I perceive the feminine especially in nature).

The End of the World narrative works in terms of a vengeful God who would smite us for destroying His creation. But you don't have to believe in a God with a personality to accept this. It works for non-believers. Destroying these animals could trigger a series of ecological events we can't predict. We know this is the case with less impressive, "indicator" species like salamanders and Spotted Owls. Probably due to watching too much Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom as a kid, I believe there can be NO DOWNSIDE to protecting these animals.

But they are no longer endangered says the newspaper. Don't we deserve a big pat on the back?

Well, no. Victory is snatched from us once again. And would you be surprised to know there's a Bush planted smack in the middle of this dirt?

Nothing has changed in the population of these creatures but plenty has changed since Jeb took office. In Florida, wealth and power are measured in acres -- and it's ALL FOR GRABS. Jeb is working overtime to attract McMansion developers and he's piquing their interest in waterfront property by offering our coastal heritage in exchange. He is essentially, offering up Mother Nature's virginity in exchange for campaign funds.

(read This Vanishing Eden by Thomas Barbour if you can find a copy. My great-grandfather Frank Carlisle was his guide.)

Manatee numbers continue to decline thanks to blunt trauma from careless Sea Dooer's and boaters. Lowering the status of these creatures will allow developers to build waterfront with NO SPEED LIMIT in the canals. We want their habitat and we want it unhindered by silly speed limits. Developers demand that their clients be able to haul ass with their Sea Doos over any great creature without so much as a second thought. Think about the last time you were on the waterfront enjoying a nice quiet day in the sun. Now, imagine that gang of water motorcyclists ripping and jumping on wake right where you are sitting. You are sitting on the deck of a nice waterfront restaurant sharing you anniversary and all you hear is the insatiable whirr and grind of watercraft.

Why have speed limits on roads? Or stop lights, for crying out loud. I'm sure there's plenty of SUV drivers who could get to Walmart much faster if they could just mow over pedestrians in their way. It's the same thing. It's the pedestrian's own damn fault for not being in a car, or a nice safe SUV with plenty of cup holders. These animals are simply pedestrians trying to get home in time for dinner. Do you mow down stray dogs on your way home from work feeling good about your ability to do so without restriction?

I'll answer that. No. That would be devastating after a shitty day at work. Hit the side of a manatee with your Sea Doo and you are likely to break a rib, puncturing their lung and you won't even know it. You might feel a bump. You might crash your Sea Doo. But you won't know why. They die slowly, suffocating on the bottom of the lagoon where no one sees. If you hit a mother, her baby will die as well since they rarely find adoptive parents. It takes a baby manatee years to learn their survival skills -- migration patterns and language -- just like humans. Imagine your child orphaned in the woods when she's three. Just old enough to be mobile, but not much else.

My first thought is, why shit where you eat? Why wouldn't developers USE the protection of the environment, as attractions for their cheap-ass Cult-De-Sacs. What they lack in quality craftsmanship (and believe me, we're talking "cracker boxes") they can provide with the flick of a pen by providing Human/Animal Preserves. Why not? If Florida can give us the freaking Truman Show nightmare in the real postmodern-manufactured-utopia of Seaside. "Why buy a house when you can have your own little slice of PARADISE." Fuck, I'd live there. Deed restricted? fuck that. Nature restricted! Sea Doos and speed boats fucking prohibited. Sailboats, canoes and dinghies PROVIDED.

People who pay the money to live waterfront, shouldn't they be MORE interested in preserving it? I wouldn't want to live where mowing over children is sanctioned. When I live somewhere, I get attached to my neighbors. I still visit "neighbors" 30 years later. Am I off-base for considering the creatures who frequent my dock to be my "neighbors" as well? I would be devastated to find out someone bumped-off a manatee in my harbor. I would probably have them all named. I would know who is frisky and who is demure. The more I think about it, the more absurd it gets. They want to whaaaa?

Obviously "neighbors" aren't writing the rules anymore. Developers are. And developers aren't people; they are corporations with their own survival instinct. As a civilization, isn't it our responsibility to reign in our creations so they don't harm us?

Taking the manatee off the endangered list means certain extinction for the animal by opening habitat to essentially unregulated development.

Think for a minute about a coast without dolphin, manatee and turtles. What's left? The beach? Take another look. The hurricanes have wrecked havoc on the east coast. The beaches are eroding at an alarming pace and the politicians have taken the cheap way out, which is guarantees to quicken the problem instead of fixing it. Without a beach what's left? McDonalds? Strip joints. T-shirt Palaces. They can't afford to lose the manatee, or even their beaches, but they won't stand up to their creations -- the development corporations. It's like the Matrix. We have lost the war against our "machines," our corporations. We serve them now.

"People" acting rationally wouldn't do such a thing. Corporations acting without human intervention do these sorts of things because they are dumb, inanimate objects. A corporation can't rejoice at a leaping dolphin or be healed by the touch of a manatee. It is our job as stewards to tame these wild beasts. They are our creations. We owe it to our Creator to protect Her creations from ours. I believe any God would judge us according to our stewardship. "So, you want into heaven? How can we trust that you wouldn't spray paint the pearly gates with your logo?"

If we sacrifice these animals on the altar of sleazy, deed-restricted gated communities, then we deserve everything Mother Nature or a vengeful God has to throw at us. When volcanos spew menstrual blood and Avril Lavigne's face forms in ash to recite the Good Will Hunting screenplay, the sentient razors boring into your flesh will carve the images of every animal driven to extinction by your inaction.

The beaches and the wild animals are the Truffala Trees Dr. Suess spoke of in The Lorax (he kinda looks like a manatee, doesn't he?). They are the "real" resources. Folk might travel to Florida the first time to see the Magic Kingdom -- but you go there for the rest of your life because Great Blue Heron sit in the tree in your backyard.

Seeing a manatee up close and personal is the kind of experience that speaks for itself. In the mountains we have lots of "indicator" species on the endangered list -- salamanders -- it's not easy to get folks excited about saving a salamander. But put a manatee in front of these same people...this big water dog that will come when called and shows it's belly for scratching...sheesh! There's an animal with charisma!

I don't know how it's all going to pan out. No one does. What to do?

There's a few things.

Sign the damn petition: Eschew the theme parks this year. Take a morning (or an afternoon for the late sleepers) -- and get in a kayak and see these guys before they are gone. Eco-tourism is not native to Florida, but there are some great, easy trips to take. Cocoa Beach Kayaking is one I'm familiar with. Give a few bucks to Jimmy Buffet's Save The Manatee organization. Buy a tshirt. Spread the word.

And even if the world turns just fine without the manatee? Something tells me that would be worse than the punishment of a pissed-off God.


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