« 99% Invisible

338- Crude Habitat

2019-01-22 | 🔗

Santa Barbara, California, is a famously beautiful place, but if you look offshore from one of the city's many beaches, you'll see a series of artificial structures that stand out against the natural blue horizon. These oil platforms are at the center of a complicated debate going on right now within the environmental community about the relationship between nature and human infrastructure.

Crude Habitat

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety. Nine percent, invisible, I'm roman, Mars there are a lot of beautiful places in California downtown. Oakland, for example, but Santa Barbara is like stupid, beautiful Catholic. They are comically picturesque, California, seen here a few months we sent producer, Emmett Fitzgerald down to Santa Barbara, on a really taxing reporting assignment realities. Beautiful, sailboats, pelicans side too dolphins, beginning the sad. Rough life here comes a wave ass glass and it really put himself in harm's way for the story. But if you look The at the ocean from this scenic spot, see something else something little less
conventionally attractive or at all, on the horizon line. He felt one. Two three four Five, six, seven, he big offshore oil platforms. They look like buildings out their floating in the water, Jane battleships or something at the prettiest ecological here. Don't love them Those oil platforms off Santa Barbara or at the centre of a complicated debate, going on right now with the new environmental community about the relationship between nature and human infrastructure. Although there have been a source of controversy since they first when in the water back emanating fifties and sixtys, I came to Santa Barbara nineteen sixty six. This is right.
Rick NASH and environmental historian, who move to Santa Barbara from New Hampshire to take a job in history to permanent. You see us be, and it didn't take em law. To fall in love with his new home began to realize what people have told me. They said so bob is like the American Riviera, it's kind of a paradise endless summer, but at the time he said, There was a sense that this coastal paradise and its lucrative tourist economy will under threat from these. Massive oil rigs going up all throughout the Then a barber channel there were cries from the people, Santa Barbara saying not so fast Let's let think about the consequences of this. We look out at the channel. This is the million dollar view. This is this is what the economy the culture of Santa Barbara about and now suddenly, but putting all show call rates out there and we're us assure that were protected from spells, but at the time there wasn't a whole lot. Anyone could do the EPA
didn't exist, yet there were no major environmental regulations in place, and so the oil platforms went in and they operated without any major spills until Cole January twenty Eightth nineteen sixty nine. I was working on the fourth. Floor of the up, the sale building tat overlooked the ocean. This is but items local artists to actually passed away? Last year, this audio video interview, the bottoms, did a few years back, where I ve described getting a phone call from a friend who had flown into Santa Barbara. Earlier that day he was flying over the channel. This particular day they saw blow out their oil from early this platform by crazy, washed out. Here. Is black boy union oil. The owner of the platform in question had failed to build a large enough protective casein for one of its wealth and the oil. Which was under immense pressure for
It's way around the well and rubbed it through the ocean floor. Thousand gallons of crude, were pouring into the ocean every hour. Roderick NASH heard about spell that same day, but he says it a little while for the scale of the disaster, to really set in like remember walking down the beach. No change notes And then I walked down the beach one day and it was a act. I knew there was oil and suddenly the postcard beaches of Santa Barbara were black. Crude oil thoughts on top of water, and so this bill was particularly deadly, foresee birds that dive into the water to catch fish he go in and your feathers are covered with oil, and you can't fly you flap flap, helplessly on the beach. It was an apocalyptic see. Although NASH says the most uncanny thing may have been the sound. The waves were very quiet because they were oil
They had sort of a machine sound, because what was really breaking was- took three inches of oil. On top of the water we stood there and cried I hear grown men and women sitting there cried the beach was half their life and we thought it was all over for us as sad as the nineteen sixty nine spill was, but Bottoms was mostly just furious so angry. I did screamed out. We I get oil out. He recalled screaming, get oil out at work and then my boss was the next off. As you said, hey get oil dot, do good name And so do spelled g o o exclamation point became name of a new environmental organisation that bottoms help launch in Santa Barbara and Goose girl, with simple stop oil drilling and eventually get those platforms out of there
What more can we do you now to stop? Dialogue will end. Our beautiful steam no Stone Santa Barbara Goo held rallies and marches. They organised a human blockade to prevent oil trucks from reaching the harbour, and a war more creative forms. A protest who had said I was a little bottles of oil out of our harbour to every area. Official there was they can see for themselves what we are dealing with. The oil spill COS We became an international news story in part because of the timing. This is very beginning of the modern environmental movement, a Carson's landmark book silent spring had come out to the few years before the APOLLO. Eight spacecraft. Was orbiting, the moon for the first time, sending back photos of the earth. Looking like a blue green marble in the empty desert of space, for the first time, people were beginning to understand that the planet was small and fragile and humans were doing a great deal of damage, and so on
Those images of oil drenched seabirds dying on beautiful California, beaches. They went around the world. People looked at these furs and I thought Santa Barbara. The spill. The galvanizing event for environmentalists on the first anniversary activists right elite in Santa Barbara and then went on to organise the first earth day. Saying this is why we need. This is why we need arrested because Like the sound of our oil spill, the oil spill what inspired Roderick NASH, to start, one of the country's first environmental studies, programmes that you see Santa Barbara it also debates in Congress and help rally support for some of the most important environmental bills. In? U S, history, the nineteen sixty nine national environmental Policy act was followed by the Clean AIR Act in nineteen. Seventy, the clean Water ACT in nineteen, seventy two and the endangered species ACT in nineteen. Seventy, three Justin with you
increasingly as you look back at it from now fifty years, you look back can it you can really say holy cow, though, a lot of change in the sun. Barbara oil spill A lot to do that change. Spill catalyzed a national movement, but there was still the question of the platforms themselves. Local opposition, put a stop to most new oil exploration of California, but the existing oil rigs have continued to operate for decades, today. Many of those old platforms are reaching the end of their productive lifetimes and on their original leads agreements. They should be decommissioned and removed from the water Karla Free. Ask is on the board of go it's still around and She can't wait for the oil companies to be gone the end lease and be done and then get equipment and go away get oil out. If you will
still so that all really yeah, you don't have any doubts about what the organizations about right off the bat first course oil companies to return the Santa Barbara Channel to the way it was before the platforms when the water Christine Ocean environment without any giant artificial structures? And when you go down there, that you would never know that they were there. I mean that's really which be you know we come to the ocean. It should be the ocean that simple goal one that members have to have been fighting for, since nineteen sixty is, it would seem like it's time has finally come, but there's one little hitch. These platforms are the most productive. Habitats in the world ocean anywhere in the world. This is Milton love. I may research biologist at the Marines since the two University of California. Santa Barbara love is third of classic science books like, and this is really the title pro,
probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast and also the seat certainly more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast, a post, modern experience. It's a six hundred and fifty page tone full of fish facts, historical anecdotes and some of his original poetry accord? to love. It weighs five point four pounds: it's actually a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands and- bills cliche to say that a scientist just really loves the thing that they study, but it must be said, Milton love loves fish. I have two tattoos of fish and one is a vague, I'll cod, which is Iraq fish, but the other one is of a deep anglerfish is in a decent place. Can I see it Well all I said I have to take my shirt without thinking, I guess he pulls off his shirt to reveal a fading shoulder tattoo. It's this big
email anglerfish with a tiny little male fish latched onto her side. There. There is the female in that little nobby thing that sir? That's the mail there love drew up fishing on the beaches and peers of Santa Monica. These need biology ass. You see us be eventually ended up back at his alma mater, where he started up his own research lab the love lab, but in the apps early days, he had a really hard time getting grants to fund his fish research and in Nigeria five. I was at a at a low point. There is no question. I had no funding. But just when things were at their bleakest love got an unexpected phone I, as a phoney says this is Lyman Thorstenson, I'm from the national biological survey, which was a good programme, the nineties that aim to catalogue and describe ecosystem throughout the country, and I swear, God that's what he said. He said dumb, If you had money for real
urge. What would you would you do? What does not how signs usually works? Nobody knows nobody calls and says I have money it's the other way around. It's a very dickensian kind of thing. It's like you're, the little beggar boy you come over and you go like please could I have two thousand dollars. Please love thought about to answer the surprise question and he landed on something that had been nagging him since he first came to Santa Barbara backing Twenties love used to collect fish for local aquarium and one day he and his fishing partner took their little Boston, whaler out to the oil platforms and start fishing around them. There is like fish up was zoo in and we could have filled up the aquarium with all the fish. We call ever since then he had wondered what was going on down there and so here's this dude offering me money- and I said well- I'm really entry stood in these all platforms off here. Their large structures
to know the role that they play as habitat for fishes, and he said, oh that sounds interesting and Funding in hand Milton love, got team together, rented a small summary and began. The study, the platforms, the fur dive I made in the submersible- was it platform I'll go which is located just barely into central California. Red sits in about four turn fifty feet of water. He took the submersible all the way to the bottom. Fish in particular, schools of adult rock fish were swirling around the base of the platform. And there was a lot of fish and protect schools of adult rock fish or swirling around the base of the platform and ass. He started making his way up the structure. He saw a lot of smaller juvenile fish and we're talking Hunter thousands of these young fish. Then the metal itself was covered with colorful, invertebrates, see, stars muscles sponges and these little craft
walking all over the struts, never coming back on deck to research. Vessel and the hatch. Pops in everybody's all the lab is there and the crew, the boats therein they're waiting for me to say something. I said this was like. I said like an amazing place. That platform. Dive was the first of many that Milton love in the other scientists at the love lab would do over the next fifteen years. Lover members, one I've, in particular, from this period around a platform called Gilda. One of his colleagues went down first and when she came back up. She said, basically that was unbelievable. This and just always videotape these dives to show people who didn't believe them, and so she played them the recording right there on the boat, You put it in there and we're gonna like oh, my god, that's the most. We ve ever seen around the platform. Not every trip down was like that. All platforms are differently
says some don't have a lot of fish than that always varies year to year, but often love, found that these oil platforms were like little oases of marine life, the is a big empty place in animals tend to concentrate around stuff. The only reason there there is they like to hang out with stuff many invertebrate need a physical object to latch onto, and rock fish. One hide and nooks and crannies or spin around anything with a little structure to it. They don't care what structures made out of it can be a pipe. It can be a platform. It can be a tire it can be a rock oil platforms, or particularly popular structures with the fishes, because they have a lot of surface area and complexity and they stand hundreds of feet through the water column like a marine skyscraper rock fish, live it different depths throughout their life cycle, mainly oil platform. This incredible home for fish of all ages, younger This tend to live higher up the platform and time after time,
love, was finding lots of them. There were so many that I I started thinking like what does this mean biologically? like ok, so we're seeing a lot of juvenile fish, but how, important of these platforms really in terms of the overall ecosystem. Trying at the bottom up, love and because you looked at one particular species of and around the Boccaccio it's got a big mouth, that's what it means in Italian. Boccaccio means big mouth the Boccaccio are heavily fish around Santa Barbara and around this time the stock was so depleted that the garden close the fishery, but when loved a survey of seven different oil platforms, then there's all these baby book and then we're talking a lot about four hundred and fifty thousand to put that. We're in context. Love called up a scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service who was responsible for counting all the Boccaccio on the Pacific coast. His name was Alex, so I said, Alex
We estimated that there were forbidden thousand baby Boccaccio at these seven platform is that important, Because you know like maybe it's not- I didn't know so yet a model that are used. So he plug that in came back couple weeks later and he said dab. Well, on an average year, that's twenty percent of all the baby will catch. You on the entire pacific coast were at those seven platforms and babies. Are particularly important to rebuilding the overall population. Somebody, like you, know what that seems like those platforms were important, for rebuilding that particular species still, as loves results were coming in a lot of people. Skeptical Maybe the rigs we're just Lorraine fish away from natural habitat love says that there too ITALY valid concern than does happen with a lot of artificial reefs. But after you,
of studying these oil platforms, people's confident that at least for some species of fish, the platform, are giving the overall population a boost, preponderance of evidence is that for aid ten or maybe twelve species of rock fish. There are more of them in California because of all these platforms, then, would be here if the platforms were not here and some scientists would go even further. A few years ago, someone else tried to calculate just how biologically productive the platforms were them. Productive habitats are places like rain forests, coral reefs, but when the scientist ran the numbers he found that platforms are the most productive habitats in the world ocean anywhere in the world. Now we that with the grain of salt, there are tons of habitats that scientists haven't studied in this way. But the point is
these are fully functioning reefs They contain all the animals. You would expect to see on a myriad natural rooms, which begs the question is it in the interests of the people, California, to blow up a fully functioning reef and destroy it in twenty ten the California legislature decided it wasn't and they passed a b to five over three a bill known as rigs tariffs which allow the oil companies to leave If an oil platform in place, It could be shown to have a net benefit on the marine environment. The oil companies would still need to plug the wells and lopped off the top. The platforms that boats could travel over it, but they would be I to leave some of the structure in place so far, though No one has made use of this bill, and the future of California's offshore platforms is still very much up in the air and allow
of environmentalists, aren't sold on the idea of turning rigs into reefs I have concerns about liability, and the potential for future leaks and the original least, agreements specify that the platforms will be fully removed. When the oil ran out, there wasn't a loophole. Its They could stay if they turned into beautiful fish habitat. To me, it's breaking a promise. This is Carlo Frisk again from Google the promise was, these would go away and now later, want them to go away. Then tell unity, don't worry we're going to clean up our garbage, afterward gone and then say: well, we mean then and Even if you love fish- and I really do love fish frustration is understandable, environmental activists in Santa Barbara have had to deal with oil in their backyard for the last fifty years and twenty fifteen and oil pipeline a few miles north of Santa Barbara started leaking right into the ocean was
horrible reminder of the sixty nine spill and the dangers of living with oil infrastructure all. The companies are saying: hey these giant structures in the ocean that cause you all these problems there actually good for the environment. Look at the research, their habitat, it's not about. Mozilla is not convinced that oil executive support rig store reefs because of their concern for the rock fish. My feeling is that there are motivated by saving money meant save a whole lot of money by not applying those out the rigs off Santa Barbara. Are massive pieces of infrastructure, some of them largest oil platforms in the world for Removing them would be extremely difficult and avoiding those costs could save the oil companies millions of dollars under the twenty ten weeks to reef spill, those savings will be split with a state but still alive. Our mental groups. Don't love signing off on a policy that feels like a hand out to the oil industry dismissed they because environmental groups are currently fighting new.
Offshore oil development the trumpet restoration, is indicated that they want to issue new offshore oil and gas leases off California. California has resisted the plan, but environmental groups worry that if the costs decommissioning go down and the oil companies can argue that the structures are actually good for wildlife. They could an easier time, building new oil platforms and new who offshore oil drilling is the worst case scenario that all environmental groups want to avoid, not just because of risk of future spills, but because, if we stop the worst impacts of climate change, we're going to have to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Milk love agrees that climate change is one of the big his threats to the world's oceans, and so I asked him what he thinks about this, that the oil industry probably lead Ex his research. I have tended. To avoid dealing with the
well in street. To the extent I can, but obviously they read my my papers, they like it. I guess I mean it. I've never had a ceo comin go like this is great stuff. Man, I loved your stuff, Thank you. Thank you think I'm there. Anybody do that, but his final definitely helped oil companies make their argument to the stand that my findings bolster The oil companies positions. That's just what happens with facts. The fact of Milton loves. Research, don't mean that oil infrastructure is good for wildlife and usually isn't it. You mean that few instances off the southern California Coast oil platform, become useful habitat for a few from species of fish
love is not in favour of building new offshore oil platforms or even building lots of new artificial, reeks. But in this situation. The artificial reef is already there live, who is once you put something in the ocean and it becomes habitat for animals. I don't should pull it out because, like? Why should we punish those animals, just as they have the misfortune of settling out on a piece of steel rather than on a wrong after all, right or just looking for a little structure and their lives? They don't care. If it's a rocky outcrop were a shipwreck or an oil platform, social thanks to Christian his love of the Environmental Defence Centre, who also spoke to us for the story and also a big thank you to JANET bridges from earth alert for kindly letting us use on you from her interview with Bob
taking what we learn from offshore oil platforms and applying it to offshore wind farms. After this. We often don't think of winter as a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect, I'm to create your own website, cooped up your thinking about being productive and now airspace can help you do it with whiskers Bates can take your cool ideas, you ve creative content, your services, goods, and you can turn them into a beautiful website in just a few clicks. Does it because there is to use templates, are created by world class designers? And then you the ability to customize the look and feel in the different settings for your own needs.
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on stuff, then, let's just a London have put into the water, and the crazy thing is that we have done this. We have built artificial reefs, a lot in the past, and people have thrown all kinds. The things into the ocean. Thinking that this is gonna be beneficial. There been in old, washing machines are subway cars, they even sunk in old aircraft carrier once off the Florida Panhandle it became known, as that is the great carrier, reef, Lutherans, clever, and the results are are mixed. Often, when you put structure into the water, it did does attract fish and, as a result, I shall be one of the constituencies. Are the people at that have tended to support these sorts of projects, artificial anything off our fish from hidden, because it concentrates all the fish in one place and makes them easier to catch. And so an argument against artificial reefs is that they like. To our can exacerbate overfishing and that's totally
a real concern is also you know, I'm in one of the more egregious examples of a misguided, our official reaping attempt that I came across. Happened in the nineteen seventies, where people Don T half a million tyres automobile tyres into the ocean off for Lauderdale Austin. The blue. You know in an effort to create an artificial reef that seems like the worst possible substrate To build a reef of heart attack is not conducive to life at all completely, and I was angry with an abject failure. It's like, after they got thirty acre dead zone around there. Now is an anomaly that, but like built the tires leech stuff that was done, mental, to a natural coral reef, fish having combat United sort of the worst case scenario of taking this idea, and going too far with it
and I put things out in the marine environment were building breakwaters around harbours were building bridges were building here we have been building a lot of oil platforms, moving the future polygon rebuilding a lot of renewable energy in a wind platform for we're gonna, put things out in the marine environment were building breakwaters around harbours were building bridges were building We haven't, got a lot of oil platforms, moving the future polygon rebuilding a lot of renewable energy in a wind plant, form for offshore wind. So this is Jeremy. Place he's a professor of marine biology, cow, Polly Pomona, and he was actually the scientists that that ran the numbers and quantified how biologically productive, the California oil rigs. Aren't you remember that from the story and journeys Argument is basically that you know with all of this infrastructure. We should be thinking about the issue. Acted it will have on the marine environment and see if there are ways that we can design the structure before it goes in the water so that
Your has a chance to become beneficial habitat so in the oil platform story was a total accident. These structures became reefs, but he's saying that maybe we can act They do some of this intentionally or maybe even do it better. With some intention or if we think about you, know how we could design human infrastructure to maximize sabotage benefits. Basically, and he's particularly focused on the question of offshore wind, which to me, is this really interesting example, because, unlike oil platforms, which are upload when it comes to climate change. Offshore wind is this. I'm a solution in this potentially William important climate solution. Now you know, we know that we're gonna need to build a lot of these structures in the coming decades like and if we want to avoid the worst case scenarios when it comes to climate change. We're gonna need some offshore wind fully in all these offshore wind platforms, thought can be into designing them and then once their put out there, we can study them and understand each other.
The negatives that's going on and try to revise those overtime and do the best we can. Stuff opening out into the marine environment, so is it happening anywhere, yet, as anyone actually designing wind platforms with biological life as a priority, or kind at the beginning of this, but the place right now in the world with the most offshore wind is the North Sea in Europe, and there are a lot of wind turbines there that are just their basically just attached to the sea bed by a single pull. It doesn't have a lot of complexity, that structure and one of the things that really great about offshore Oil platforms is that they ve got some of that structural complexity that fish tend to like and so in the North sea. One thing that people are doing is starting to think about, like how can we add a little bit of structural complexity to these wind turbines,
And you're up in the North Sea, they're doing things to increase the complexity on a down at the base. There's opportunities to create more complex habitat surrounding it, with Corey, rocker or different structures to try to approval of the habitat for fish living down there? But you know off California, this situation is actually really different. The ocean floor, if, as he goes out to Sea and California, drops off a really quickly and gets really deep and so on or wind turbines in California. If they do, com are, Actually, gonna need to be designed to float so there's a whole set of new challenges in terms of deploying is floating structures, but a lot of them apart. It's gonna be under water is very similar structure to the top part. That's underwater of these offshore oil platforms. Solana, whereat right now, is trying to study the visual living on these offshore oil platforms. It's kind of a proxy what you would expect. The fishermen
experience living off these floating wind platforms, soldier, is hoping that his research can inform the design of these structures. If and when offshore wind becomes a reality in California, but you know what it was in his indictment. Jerry he's like he's. A the marine biologist is obviously focused on fish. There are, huge engineering challenges and and design challenges with offshore wind and solar anger hit. Getting these people to care about fish is not necessary, is not. He doesn't think it's gonna necessarily be the easiest. I think The economic and engineering challenges great. These structures so We at least it's probably hard to come in and say: well let s think about how these are going to give for the fish, but ultimately, there I think that's what we should be doing at the end the day we still, we shouldn't get too carried away with his with these ideas or think that weak
design. Perfect habitats of human infrastructure is going to have. I think that you know obvious. And we put a big piece of infrastructure into the water. It's going to be disruptive on some level. And then then? That's always that's always true, and we always need to be thinking about how to mitigate the negative impacts that a big piece of human infrastructure is going to have it with offshore wind a thing. People are obviously very concerned about is, is sea birds that's a whole other set of of design challenge is how to you. How do you build these structures and away where they dont disrupt Seeber habitat, but I think that first, that is like how do we mitigate disruption, and damage, and then you can start thinking about what our ways in which we could maybe actually have small benefits right. Does can never replace the concept of conservation, total innovation and design and impact design should go hand in hand. Even though we can make a nice habitat on the butter The wind platform, it doesn't mean
we shouldn't be protecting the natural reefs an environment, justice, much as we always should, I like its it, doesn't replace it at all, clearly there is no they nothing. Your grand design is is better than what said, leaving nature along exactly good bright completely in some of the most interesting that's being done in terms artificial reefs that I think people do support is is speaking about habitat restoration. You know a place where we ve done a lot of damage with some other kind of development. Is there a way that we can intervene again, with an eye to some kind of design solution, but for the purposes of of trying to rehabilitate something that was already there and then maybe also have future policies in which we dont disrupt Greece to begin yeah. That's that's very nice. Do that. Chemical.
Ninety nine percent, invisible impact design coverage is supported by Autodesk The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social and environmental challenges like court. Conservation and restoration, He core is a nonprofit global network of scientists and other interested parties. That is create ceramic seeding units, some which, like little Throwing stars recovery Coral larvae and our dropped off of boats and take hold in the nooks and crannies of damage, reefs and re popular the ecosystem, but using the printing and rapid prototyping to determine the best material and design combination for the ceding units. For example, they learned that it has to be rough enough for them. World to settle on, attach but smooth enough that it's not a good location for other organisms. Expunge is in algae that can take over and crime, the coral learn more, about that project from auto desks, red shift which,
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Nothing I presented visible was pretty sweet by Emmett Fitzgerald makes intact production by Sharif. Useth music by sharia. Katy mingle is the senior producer for coal studies. The digital director threaten include senior editor, Delaney Hall gave reach of military Massa, Joe Rosenberg Vivian Lee and me roman Mars. We are project of ninety one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco in produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland, California, ninety nine percent invisible as a member of Radio Tokyo from the our acts of an independent, collective, the most innovative shows in all of pot casting find them all and radio told me that I found you can find the show in joint discussions about the show on Facebook. Entreated me a roman Mars in the show and ninety nine p organ upon Instagram Tumblr and ready to bid your thinking. This episode will be even better if I was looking at pretty pictures of rock fish. What we ve got a covered and ninety nine p I dont work. Radio do.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.