Ben White Yucatan Diary
Executive Summary: Maurice Ewing is still frozen, rocking and rolling from noreaster. The issue goes to Mexican Senate. Our side holds a little demonstration in Merida center. Brer Fox? He lays low.
Not all of the picturesque characters down here are Mexicans. I haven't even touched on the eternal primary source of amusement for many Mexicans—the bony kneed, shorts wearing, oblivious, heavily drinking, money disgorging gringos from the North.
The other day this guy came roaring across the flat cobblestones of downtown Merida, frightening tiny horses with blinders pulling carts wrapped with pastel plastic flowers and dispersing flocks of children from Chiapas selling crafts: He was an old geezer gringo riding an vintage Easy Rider-type chopped Harley trike with the front forks raked way out in front, long white hair and beard, the latter streaked with chewing tobacco juice. Sunglasses, big round belly. But behind him his family, a lovely Mexicana and two little ones, rode in cushy comfort under a very cool curved metal canopy that sprouted from the frame and stretched above and in front of their heads like a jack-in-the-pulpit flower. He advanced with thunder, the lord of his domain.
Julia and I just rented a jeep and drove the four hours to Cancun and back in order to be filled with optimism by my friend, the Mayan shaman Araceli Rodriguez. I came away as if I had feasted.
When I asked her about what she understood to be happening with the Ewing, she told me that the port captain (whose email address I may have accidentally-on-purpose inserted into an earlier diary entry) had not yet given permission to the Ewing and did not plan to do so until he was sure it was safe for it to operate. Therefore, although the ship can move around (and is now reported to be about 50 miles north of Telchac, just to the east of Progreso) it still does not have permission to begin. It is still, so to speak, frozen.
For what its worth, it turns out that a bunch of Mayan practitioners of hocus pocus may be responsible for keeping the Ewing frozen. This was accomplished by taking pictures of the Ewing from the paper and putting them in their icebox. But they didn't want the people on board to suffer, they wanted their experience, even though their work is frozen, to be "sweet." So they put some honey in with the picture. I am not kidding.
Aracelli gave me an old Mayan frog whistle to blow for help, an owl feather for seeing through things, and a piece of paper with a picture of the Angel of Beauty to show me a way through. She gave me a primer on how to listen beyond all of the static and attention and fear to my heart.
Okay now boys and girls, we are going to try our own magic. A noreaster is now battering the northern Yucatan coast and is expected to continue for a couple of days. Meanwhile, hopefully, the Ewing can not let out their airgun arrays in the heavy seas. The weather coming here comes from western North America. But regardless of where you live, I need you to go outside, face the Yucatan peninsula and blow. Nice long breaths, how about ten of them. Imagine them rolling on down here, through the Texas scrub, across the palmetto, over the heads of the dolphins (who are in the loop) until it arrives to the Caribbean coast of Mexico, where it disappears like a zephyr, except for keeping the Maurice Ewing in a gentle state of rock and roll—just a little too much to work in.
Tomorrow I will take all of the details I have learned about this study of the Chicxulub Crater and attempt to meet with port commissioner and Navy Captain Luis Isauro Contreras Garcia in Progreso. Plus all of the studies I have accumulated which document the problem with intense underwater sound and living creatures. I ask for all of whales, dolphins, fish, turtles and eels that could be affected by this blasting to speak through me to this man. You be my muse and I will translate into Spanish.
The whole fight has now taken on more twists and turns than a DNA molecule. Greenpeace and Defenders of Wildlife in Mexico City came out last week saying that the real purpose of this experiment is to look for oil. When asked about whether the information obtained from this study could be used for that purpose, apparently the UNAM (University of Mexico) head of the project, replied, "Pues, si" ("Well, yes."). Personally, I just don't know.
It appears that Greenpeace and Defenders had more than a simple reason for bringing this up. Part of the Mexican Constitution (article 27?) says that Mexican citizens are the owners of all Mexican resources. If the Ewing, a US flagged vessel, is secretively looking for oil, it is a contravention of Mexican law. Today's Tribuna de Yucatan carries a story that Senator Orlando Parades Lara is denouncing the presence of the Maurice Ewing in the National Senate of Mexico and will in the next few days present a notice of nonconformance concerning the vessel because of the strenuous objections of the citizens of Yucatan to the presence of the ship. This movement is in addition to a similar one within the Yucatan Council of Deputies, where five have now taken up this cause.
Rosario and her group, Yucatecans for Animal Rights and their Habitats, held a rally in downtown Merida this morning. When I asked her if she wanted me to speak, she said no, I had better not. More noise is flying around about the possibility of my being deported, and I couldn't be seen doing anything that might be interpreted as political. So, I was holed up in an Internet cafe nearby, getting ready to write this, when she buzzed my (much hated, infernal, brain irradiating) cell phone. "Come over quick, okay?"
The press was hungry and wanted new meat. Rosario warned me first to be careful and not say anything about us protesting or about my plans to jump in front of the Ewing to force them to turn off their sound because I would then come across as a radical or a terrorist. Boy, we have really fallen into the bottomless pit of newspeak if that T word has now been stretched to include unarmed human shields trying to stop the use of tools of unimaginable violence. And I don't even use the word protest anymore even in the states. I am never protesting. I am affirming. Life. Personal responsibility.
So when one of the heads looking out from the mass of arms and tape recorders and cameras asked me what I was going to do now to stop the boat I said that I had great faith in the leaders of the people of Yucatan that they will do the right thing, stop the boat and protect their people and waters. And that the purpose of my coming down to Mexico was to work with the people here to stop the ship. I have no particular necessity for going swimming if the ship can be stopped in other ways.
This whole project has been jammed down the throat of the Mexican government and I think they would be happy to find a reason to cancel it. For a country of such size, importance and pride, Mexico has been treated poorly almost automatically by a succession of US administrations. This seems more of the same. We are coming. We want. Step Aside. Thanks (or not). See ya.
Julia and I went swimming yesterday in a cenote halfway back from Merida, just outside Valladolid. Our little guide led us into a dried out cave, the formations long since deprived of their lifewater. But then he turned a corner and the big blue lake lay before us. The original cathedral, the original kiva. Huge domed ceiling arching to the five foot diameter hole in the center, softened with ferns. Tree roots started at the ceiling small and then branched and branched until they became a big root mass club right at the water, hanging down a good 50 feet. The stalactites taper the other way, fat at the top and skinny at their blunt bottoms, looking exactly like the suspended arches in the Canterbury Cathedral ending in the incongruous pagan greenman faces looking down at the faithful. The cenote is, of course, sacred, but it had the atmosphere of a neighborhood pool with the local folks cooling off in the clean sweet water.
Questions from the peanut gallery:
This weeks winner of a genuine magic AWI decoder ring is Mark Palmer from California for his question concerning the use of crosses made of hueso (thatch palm) and sticks, blessed with holy water to keep the mischievous little Aluxes mud men from causing havoc with your neighborhood. Ever the perceptive smart alleck, Mark asks whether the same can be used to protect neighborhoods from Republicans. I certainly understand the need and desire, but my understanding is that the specific remedy for such a plague is different: Dreamcatchers soaked in patouli.
Folks, I never would have believed how this campaign would have taken root with the Yucatecan people or how this diary would resonate with anyone. Maybe its easier for me to open my heart to all of you because I don't see you. But I sure do feel you. And I believe that one way or another, we shall prevail. Please keep all of that good energy flowing.
A special hello to Susanna and all of her students and 10-year-old Stephen.
All right now, everyone go outside, face Mexico and bloooow.
Love and revolution,
Yucatan Diary Day 11
Merida and Progreso, Yucatan.
Executive Summary: Obligingly, the noreaster shakes the palms. The Port Captain still has not given the Ewing permission to operate. They wait, with permitted days running out, spending $30,000 of your dollars a day. I have a meeting with Port Captain tomorrow to show harm.
The wind from the north is blowing and blowing. The local Yucatecans have bundled up in jackets and sweaters. Lovers huddle closer in the parks, pigeons grip their little positions on the facade of the old church even harder. Out in Progreso the waves come rolling in, all churned up with sand. And straight out there somewhere rides the crew of the uneasy Maurice Ewing, cooling their heels.
A middle-aged man grips the worn steel handle of the wooden cart, pulling it heavily laden with living plants, root balls swaddled in black plastic bags, palms and carnations and roses sticking out the top, buffeted by the wind. When the traffic stops, he stops, standing in line like a dray horse behind the motorcycle without a muffler blasting him in the face with a rat-a-tat-tat nasty leaded gas exhaust. He just waits, implacable. The traffic goes, he leans into his load, and heads towards the central market.
Really good news today, if it pans out. I have set up a meeting with the Port Captain of Progreso for tomorrow morning to show him all of the reasons I believe that the airguns of the Maurice Ewing constitute a legitimate threat to both the ocean life and the families that rely upon fishing along the northern Yucatan coast. This was the man who decided not to allow Manuel Jimenez, the head of one of the local fishermen's unions, to take several of us out to go swimming next to the Ewing accompanied by the press. But he has also, so far, refused to grant a permit to the Ewing to work, saying he had not yet been convinced that it is safe. My mission tomorrow is to demonstrate that any reasonable person reviewing the history of the ship and the latest scientific studies would conclude that it indeed is not.
I will also suggest that if he decides to allow the experiment, he do it only after requiring the posting of a fianca (a bond) to assure that the ship does not damage the fisheries. This would involve the placement of a large sum of money—say sufficient to cover the loss of a year's fishery—under the control of the Mexican government until a good while after the completion of the study and zero loss of creatures could be demonstrated.
A spokesperson for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was quoted in one of the local papers as saying that this particular experiment is not a big deal, that they have done 50 like it and that the only difference this time is that they are working under the glare of those NGOs. That's us, folks. Stand up and take a bow ( and for those of you who haven't picked up on this acronym-speak, an NGO is a non-governmental organization). He also said that the only way he can see the tests being stopped now is if some Mexican politician picks up the drumbeat from the local newspapers. Yup.
I am so psyched about my meeting tomorrow I am trying not to set my expectations too high. I know that still, anything can happen. I may sit with my translator all day like a potted plant. But I hope that I get the chance to lay out the argument. I have many doubts about many facets of my life, but not my ability to convince a fair minded person given the time. This man strikes me as fair minded. Just hope I actually get in to see him.
Even though I cannot complain about my living conditions, I wish this battle would end in victory so I could go home. What nut would trade lovely and sunny Merida for chilly and rainy Friday Harbor, Washington? This one. My home, my kids, my dog, my boeia plant and the foundation of my future home to finish. Even the endless drip, drip of the rain and running out to get firewood from under the tarp.
But until the Ewing retreats northward like a cruise ship without a party, I will be here. Driving, walking, even sleeping, I wrack my brain for what detail I have forgotten, some approach I haven't tried, some person I could meet with, or that one more document I need to translate into Spanish. Yeah, I know, obsessed.
I am hoping to hold another press conference this week with Rosario to give them the same translated evidence I am giving to the Captain (much of which can be found on the awionline.org website under marine mammals/noise/seismic).
At the market, I sit talking to Veronica at her job selling mariscos (shellfish). Her friend is there, too, with her year-old son. I am showing them how to use a digital camera. Veronica is taking pictures of the little boy and both of them are cooing and sighing over how he looks on the back of the camera. The boy has not only a severely deformed lip but the split also continues into his upper palate, pushing out his teeth in all directions. At his mother's urging, the boy smacks his hand with his lips and throws a kiss at the camera. My heart breaks. Like in India and other poor countries, the plight of the poor is hidden less than in the United States. There is no welfare or medical aid to the poor here. They are right out front, doing the best they can.
But my Lord these people are kind to me. Many living around my hotel have now seen me blah-blah-blahing on TV and in the daily newspapers and greet me by name as I pass. The shop owners and hammock salesmen have even stopped hitting me up for a sale because I started teasing them that just because I am a gringo didn't mean I was a tourist. I live here, I say. Maybe it's because I grew up in Spain, but I have always warmed to Latino people. Their faces are so open and their eyes such warm brown pools that I feel like going swimming in there for a while.
Luis, the hammock salesman from a little town 45 minutes away, is almost exactly my age. I sit with him on the iron railing surrounding the park trees as he halfheartedly tries to drum up business from the gringos headed to their hotels. If he doesn't sell a hammock that day, he doesn't earn the 10 pesos needed to buy a bus ticket to get him home that night. I have told him if he runs short to let me know and one night he did. He catches the last bus home at 10:30 and catches the first one back in the morning. So much for the racist and elitist fantasy that the poor are just lazy. He tells me about his 11-year-old son he lost two years ago. I ask him if he can at least grow a little food for himself and his family and he patiently explains that he could until his pump broke and he can't afford a new one at 2,500 pesos ($250). He wasn't hitting me up for the money, just telling the story of his life very matter-of-factly. Before I leave this hard and beautiful land, I would like to arrange to get a pump for Luis and his family, if anyone out there would like to help me do it. I don't care much for her music, but Sheryl Crow is right when she says that, "Everyone has a story that will break your heart."
Please stay with me tomorrow (Tuesday) when I talk to the captain. Bring me all the power of all of the creatures of the world to convince this man to take a leap of courage against very powerful forces. Sometimes words can be magic. If the good captain decides to say no to the Ewing, then we all get to go home. Otherwise, I continue to look for a boat that can take me out and prepare to look for bodies along the beach. Keep your fingers crossed.
Love and revolution,
Yucatan Diary Day 12
Merida and Progreso, Yucatan.
Executive Summary: The Maurice Ewing still rocks off the coast, equipment ready, but not deployed. Blow wind blow. This pilgrim meets with the Port Captain. He listens carefully, says to take my evidence of harm to others in government. Okay. I will.
I write in my normal Internet cafe right off the main square in Merida. Cold fresh-squeezed orange juice with a straw at hand, the Beatles playing "With Love, From Me To You." Dark. Photographs of old Merida with Model T's and guys with Pancho Villa mustaches. Just outside, a busy sidewalk raised over a foot above the cobblestone road, jam packed with businessmen in their guayabera shirts, hustlers, Chiapas Indians selling rainbows, mothers shepherding kids in classic traditional wear—little boys with hair slicked back, little white panama hats with black bands, no collar white shirts and white pants. The girls with long huipil dresses with gardens of flowers embroidered around their necks.
Okay, for those of you just tuning in, here is a brief program to go with the ongoing play:
This is a story about the people of the Mexican state of Yucatan fighting the attempt of a bunch of scientists, mostly from the United States, to blast away at their northern Yucatan coast with seismic airguns in order to study the Chicxulub Crater. Such blasting uses sounds up to 255-262 decibels and penetrates many miles down into the Earth's crust. The echo of each blast, when caught by streamers towed by the same ship that makes the noise, gives an image of what the strata of the earth looks like down there. The sound also flies through anything living in its way.
What gives the story poignancy, in my biased opinion, is the lopsided might of the opposing sides. On the one hand we have the taxpayer funded National Science Foundation (4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA Tel: 703-292-5111, firstname.lastname@example.org) footing the bill in this ill-advised quest for knowledge. Then we have the Research Vessel Maurice Ewing owned and operated by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University (President- 535 West 116th Street, 202 Low Library, Mail Code 4309, New York, NY 10027 USA Tel: 212-854-9970, Fax: 212-854-9973). These are biggest of bigwigs among the US scientific establishment, the bluest of blue bloods. And, ranked up behind them like the evil hordes in Lord of the Rings are the real sources of resistance to stopping the emission of intense sounds into the oceans: the US military (who likes its sonars and dislikes change- especially when called for by citizen mortals), and the Oil and Gas industry (who, with fifty-dollar-a-barrel oil has great incentive to pound away anywhere they can looking for it, especially if they don't have to deal with the consequences, like now.)
Ok and on the other, heroic non-Goliath side we have a beautiful ex-dentist in Merida named Rosario Sosa Parra and her little Yucatecan Animal Rights group, a force of Nature disguised as a regular housewife and Hotel owner in Cancun named Araceli Rodriguez and her group the Mayan Ecological Group, a renowned Mexican poet and writer and his once- American wife Homero and Betty Aridjes, a huge fisherman from Progreso who heads up one of the fishermen's unions- Manuel (El Grande) Jimenez. And one middle aged lunatic (moon-lover) activist from the states thrown into the salsa mix. And all of youse guys up there and over in Japan, and Europe and down in South America rooting for us and blowing up a storm.
The Ewing was permitted to work down here since the 3rd of January and was ready since about the 8th. With a combination of old fashioned flyers spread all along the coastline in almost every fishing village, good luck, lots of prayers, deputies in the Yucatecan legislature, Senators in the federal government, awesome international press coverage, the growth of a rock solid opposition movement in the Yucatan, Rosario's contacts and poise, Araceli's magic and positively, Homero's editorials, a good man in the position of Port Captain, and lots of wind coming down from the north, the ship has still not emitted one peep from its seismic airguns. And now it looks like the Ewing's research plans are slowly dying of a thousand cuts. The official word is they have all of the permits they need and can proceed at any time. But when people in Mexico really don't want something they have a way of being difficult to push around. Like everyone else on earth who eventually gets a bellyful of being told by others what to do, they tend to get the slows. They can see a lot of ways they can be harmed by the Ewing and no way they can be helped.
I met today with the Port Captain of Progreso and the entire Yucatan coast to give him all of the evidence and information that I have showing that the use of twenty seismic airguns banging away at 255 decibels or more will harm fish and fisheries and marine mammals and turtles. Before I went, I was working on the order in which I would present my argument. I picked up this little piece of paper Araceli gave me the other day with the Mayan frog whistle and the little owl feather. On it was written:
"The frog as a goddess represents the vessel of transformation that is initiated by the power of your voice. Your voice can heal your heart, heal others and teach the long-silenced language of the Goddess. Tell your story. Let your own voice, your own rhythm fill the world. Speak the words that can set the energy in motion for global change. Say the words—make it so. And listen carefully to how the wind brings your reward back to you. Speak from the center of your heart, use your voice to import feelings of strength, honor, sensuality, courage, sacredness, joy."
Now I don't know or care if Araceli wrote this. The importance to me was that it was exactly what I needed to hear and resonated just right. Always did love frogs. Maybe that's why I have ended up flapping my mouth for a living.
I went to see the Port Captain bearing just-translated documents showing many studies of how low frequency sound wrecks fish and fisheries. I explained how the Ewing should not legally have received an Incidental Harassment Authorization from the US government because it is a shorthand form of permit only allowed when there is no possibility of severe injury or death. This cannot be honestly asserted in this situation.
I showed him the paper from the prominent US scientists who found the bodies of the beaked whales in 2002 that the Ewing killed, who point out that the level of sound that killed the whales in the Bahamas (138db) extends 15 miles from the Ewing, assuming simple spherical spreading of sound energy. By the way, one of these scientists told me that when they found the whales they radioed out to the Ewing for help in towing the whales in to have their bodies necropsied. "Sorry, no," they had said.
I told him of the resolutions in the International Whaling Commission, the European Union, ACCOBAMS, and the World Conservation Union over the last eight months that have unequivocally recommended limiting intense manmade noise released into the oceans.
I spoke the best I could, and I took an interpreter with me to make sure it was clear. I left confident that this man will do the best he can. But he also recommended that I take the same documents to the person in Semarnat—the Mexican Environmental Authority—who signed the permit for the Ewing to work. The Captain also told me, after Ken Hollingshead at NMFS waffled on the issue, that if a body is found he could temporarily halt the project (assuming it is ever allowed to begin.)
The wind is blowing so hard in Progreso that no one is swimming. The tourists off the tour ship rocking at the end of the pier huddle on the concrete benches, heads down below the blowing sand. The grass lays flat, showing its silver backside. Some kind of spiral legume pod blows rolling across the road, looking like big brown worms that have discovered a new and faster mode of transportation than the standard stretch and catch-up method. The gulls hunker down above the surf. The palm trees click out a fast telegraph. The flamboyant trees, bereft of their fluorescent orange flowers till May, shake and shudder their lacy Mimosa fronds.
Aspects of this long fight against this particular scientific experiment have taken on the feel of both a passion play and a black box problem. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to see without eyes and grasp what can't be felt, trying to spot that ship out from the coast, when it certainly rides beyond view, trying to read the thoughts of my opponents and get there before them, trying to understand the world like I struggle with fluency in Spanish, looking for hints and gestures.
What I am trying to protect is much more real, concrete, here. These people have it hard enough without having it harder. Unless these really smart scientists can promise the people here that not one creature will die in their quest for more knowledge about the Chicxulub Crater, they should just bugger off. How dare they mess with this place? Precious, fragile, life already on the edge. I am reminded of what Edwin O. Wilson said about the idea that one could rebuild a tropical rainforest in a different place using the components of a wrecked forest. He said that would be like shaking the bible out into all of its component letters into a big pile on the floor and then fitting them back again, with no guide, into how they used to be. Can't be done. We hardly know anything (so lets make some kind of killer machine to find out!).
The morality play aspect is this: this little tempest in a teapot down here is one of a million struggles to take back this world from the machine, from the sick psychology that this world can be both our uncontrolled toilet and sacred spring, and that it will still continue to be here if we forget all of the levels of respect that we have been taught by our old ones forever- yep even us gringos. This is one of the thousands of places around the world where we are saying that here we draw the line, just us regular folks. No more dams, no more flooding of ancient villages, no more clear-cutting, no more jailing and murdering of our leaders like Martin Luther King and Ang San Su Kyi. We will fight peacefully but with Oriental tenacity. And if we die, more will fight until we win. Remember Dien Bien Phu? It heartens me to think that perhaps only now when the fat cats are at the trough in the United Snakes, and the corporations are going for the whole shebang, that the entire civil movement of the world has been woken up. Maybe the threat needed to become global for the solution and the healing to become global. Don't try to tell us anymore that seismically blasting a coastline is good for humanity because a few of our scientists might have their curiosity satisfied. Don't tell us anymore that environmentalism, animal protection, and human rights are different or opposing struggles. We have your number. We don't believe you any more. Go play with more creative toys.
This diary is now going all over the place and I am very grateful to everyone for their kind wishes and prayers. I walk brushed by the wings of angels. I have never felt more on point and blessed, and I think it is due to your support. I will try each day to deserve your kindnesses.
This campaign and my salary are being paid for by the Animal Welfare Institute. Tax-exempt contributions (Thanks, Deb!) can be sent to Animal Welfare Institute, Box 3650, Washington, D.C., 20027.
Love and revolution,
Yucatan Diary Day 13
Merida and Celestun, Yucatan.
Executive Summary: Fishermen report that the Ewing is laying out cables preparing to begin blasting. I talk to fishermen in Celestun, get good leads. Still windy, still cold. We translate and get ready for Friday press conference on evidence of harm.
The lotus is a Hindu and Buddhist symbol of enlightenment, a flower of exquisite beauty that grows and unfolds from the darkest mud and foulness. I nominate the orange as the equivalent symbol in Mexico. Like the Israeli sabra, the desert flower that comes from the toughest spiny plant, the orange grows well across the shallow Yucatan limestone soil. On the hottest days, it presents such unlikely spheres of sweetness tucked away in there amongst the long green thorns. When they have nothing else to sell, the poor folks line the road with their pyramids of oranges—Mayan enlightenment—whole with their skins, peeled to their white inner velvet, or cut up into a bag with, of course, lime and hot pepper.
Reminds me of the story of a whole big family of people in Europe during World War II cherishing a very rare orange they happened to get on the black market. Maybe it was Ann Frank's family. But what I remember was the joy at being able to have an entireslice. And to enjoy a skinny bubble of flavor at a time. Plain old oranges. All of the commonplace miracles around us!
This morning I was a little saddened to hear the Ewing was reported to be readying their gear just as I was watching the trees out in the courtyard from my room notbeing buffeted by the wind. But I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. By the afternoon, you folks had woken up and started your daily constitutional of blowing towards Mexico to gently rock the seismic ship Maurice Ewing just enough so they cannot begin blasting the life of the Yucatan with their airguns. Still no word from the Port Captain or other government officials that all is in order and the Ewing can begin. Every day that passes, we win another day without the assault by sound.
Thanks to Bud Abbott of Strategic Environmental out in California for hurrying me information about the effects of sound in the water that I could share with the Port Captain. Bud works with Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, to reduce the effects of their bridge building on fish, including building bubble curtains to catch some of the pressure from pile driving. Bud reminds me about the snapping shrimp that filled my ears one night when I was trying to break the orcas out of the Victoria B.C. marine park after they had been sold to Sea World (but before they were moved).
Snapping shrimp are the big gunslingers of the Spongebob Sqarepants world down there. They go up to things they want to eat like benthic organisms and plankton, cock their claw, and let it slap shut. Pow! The little things die and get eaten, at many orders of magnitude less powerful levels of sound than what the Ewing is using. Bud says, concerning the Ewing guns, "I suspect the impact on the food web could be very significant." And, "If the skipper of the research vessel is willing to put his head underwater at 5 meters from an airgun and let an airgun go off then I guess there is no reason to forbid them to do their work." Sounds imminently fair to me. What ever happened to do unto others? Did that admonition exclude benthic organisms?
Back in the early 1900's when the Pope was asked to intervene on behalf of horses subjected to cruelty on the streets of New York, the Holy See responded after a while in the negative, explaining that horses have no souls. Guess they never met a horse. But benthic organisms and planktonic creatures are such a generator of different forms of life, it seems that a good argument could be made. Maybe to someone else.
Speaking of tiny life, my daughter Julia and I took a boat out into the mangroves near Celestun today to spend a little time together before she has to fly home on Friday. If you look down into the coffee-colored water, it is like looking into soup a-swim with lots of squiggling things. Microscopic minnows fill the spaces between the mangrove roots that grip the mud. Ibises and great white herons, white pelicans launching and forming into a V, immature flamingoes not yet pink, osprey overhead cruising, pterodactyl-like frigate birds with forked tails soar, throats white against black bodies. An 8-foot alligator with mouth agape lies on a chunk of concrete protruding from the water as if pretending to be dead so we come and put our heads in his mouth. And dotting the shallow water as far as you can see is a strange sight, men down in the water leaning against their little wooden boats, catching shrimp. Seems they throw out a net with its mouth held open by a triangular frame. Ropes coming off each corner of the frame are attached to the barquito, which is then pushed in front of the man walking in the water, theoretically scooping up the shrimp. I was told they do alright for their long day in the water—on a good day catching 5 kilos of shrimp, which they can sell to the local restaurants for 100 pesos (10 dollars) each.
If the ship has not started its pounding of the coast by Monday, I will probably go to Mexico City, here called Day Effie (as in D.F. for Distrito Federal), to deliver my translated evidence of the harm the Ewing can be expected to cause. I need to go see both allies and the people responsible for signing the permit allowing the Ewing to work. Need to unruffle some feathers too. Greenpeace is apparently objecting to the fact that the papers keep saying that I work for them. We are in agreement in this, I would much rather that my real employer Animal Welfare Institute get any credit or attention generated. But no matter how many times I tell them, they still write that I am with Greenpeace. I guess forever more they will be the only group associated with trying to stop a ship at sea with their bodies.
Not really all that excited about going to the big city. The really big city—with the most humans of any city on Earth. Of all places! Over 7,000 feet high, so everything has to be shipped expensively uphill, like water. And when they built it, they filled in the lakes of Tenochtitlan, wrecking the floating gardens that helped make it the most lovely city anywhere in the world at the time. So now when they build, everything sinks. They have even engineered the subways so they can flex with the falling level of the soil. But Day Effie is the crazy head of this big country, and it is there that some people could pull the plug on this foolish gringo study by the Barco Asesino.
Give me the countryside and the little villages any day. As soon as you get beyond the ring of industrial plants outside of Merida, the real Mexico begins. In most of the villages, the passing car is outnumbered 10-to-one by bicycles—both the regular two-wheeled ones and, much more numerous, the ones with a broad seat in front between two wheels, pedaled by someone behind in front of one. Often with a surrey on top, just like the old song. These are used for everything from taking grandmother to the store, all tidy and wrapped up in a shawl against the cold, or for picking up bags of rice. We saw a young woman today pedaling with her baby riding in front, wincing against the wind and gripping the metal rail with both hands. Couldn't have been more than 18 months old! In one town some kids had been picked up by trike taxis and were being wheeled home past the ones walking.
Lines of flags, cutout and colored paper of different designs, flutter in the wind across the narrow streets and from the dry ground to the top of the old cathedrals that preside over each town. Speed bumps, sometimes just fat poly ropes, keep the scarce traffic slow. And on either side of the road, the predominant form of home is almost the same as two hundred years ago: stone ovals with the longer side facing the road with a door in the middle. Roof thatched with palm fronds (hueso). Often no windows. Look inside and you see a door leading out the back directly opposite the front one, with a hammock strung on either side. Dark but cool The only bow to modernity is the corrugated tin sheet tied along the peak to take care of the first shedding of water. The stone walls are whitewashed as are, for some reason, all the big trees up to about 4 feet high. Old campaign slogans fade against the whitewash.
We are still looking for a boat to take us out to the Ewing should they begin their nastiness. Lots of leads. Other than this tease, I will keep any progress in this direction to myself until we are ready, for obvious reasons.
One more day of peace for the myriad creatures of the Yucatan. I hope it stays this boring.
Thanks for everyone's interest, prayers, love and good wishes.
Love and revolution,
Yucatan Diary Day 14
Merida and Progreso, Yucatan.
Executive Summary: The wind fades. Ports of Progreso and Yucalpeten open for the first time in six days. Rumors abound, but there is no report that Ewing has begun. Chuburna is up in arms.
I've been thinking a lot about sound. It's strange to be fighting the use of an instrument whose job is the generation of unbelievably huge amounts of sound. Like creating the heat of the sun here on earth and extolling its ability to find out things.
Sound is music, wind through trees, a lover's whisper, the trickle and gurgle of water, a Water Ouzel's trill, plates being cleaned in another room, a crackling fire, a mother's coo (now figured out to have a specific neurological function), a silverback gorilla roar, the banshee scream of a hurricane, Tuva throat singing, all the throat and mouth popping sounds you learn as a kid, a dolphin smacking you with a door creak echolocation.
But we are just pikers in the sound world, us visually oriented critters. Imagine living all your life underwater. Everything is sound and pressure. Everything.
It is said that once upon a time, before ship motors, blue whales might have been able to hear each other all the way around the world, their whole bodies acting as sounding boards, the sound traveling to their jaw, then ear then brain. Maybe using the LOFAR channel down deep to transmit with very little loss like a fiber optic cable.
Ever heard of acoustic daylight? The Navy is very interested in it. The idea is that with a sensitive enough instrument one can "see" with sound by picking up on how shapes interrupt background (ambient) sounds. So you have this continual white noise made of millions of clicking shrimp and waves and whale songs and croaker chirps coming at you and the shape of a turtle passes between you and the static. You "see" the outline of the shape of where the sound isn't. Some people think that this is the primary way that many whales and dolphins perceive underwater: Doesn't matter how deep or how dark. Maybe that's what those big melon foreheads are for. We don't know nothin'.
The best idea of what happens to a deep diving whale when hit by intense manmade sounds like the Maurice Ewing produces goes like this: take a Couviers beaked whale for example, the clearest example of a sonic canary in the oceanic coal mine. When the whale dives, the size of the air in its lungs is about the size of a football. But at 6,000 feet deep, the air compresses to about the size of ping pong balls and gets squeezed out of the lungs to a little area by the ears. Some of the whales found in the Bahamas that were driven ashore by US Navy mid-frequency sonar had ear hemorrhages leading to brain hemorrhages- about as close to a smoking gun as one can find ("Besa me mucho" plays in the background, "Baysa, baysa may mooocho"). But still, Dr. Darlene Ketten (Office of Navy Research funded scientist and apologist and perhaps foremost whale ear specialist) still asserts that the whales died of stranding, not provably from a sonic event. Which prompted Ken Balcomb, legendary friend to whales, to say that Darlene's evasion was like saying that, if I shot you with a 45, the cause of death would be loss of blood?
It sounds like even now, the US government wants to set noise criteria for marine mammals based only on physical injury to ears. A corollary would be for a community to decide that the only noise they would limit is that loud enough to cause either temporary or permanent deafness of its citizens, as if there is no harm from repeated or chronic exposure to sound. Sure, none of us mind at all to be stopped at a light with a jackhammer pounding away next to our ear. Or a car alarm going off. Or a (someone else's) baby screaming next to us.
I have told you all, incredulously, that the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in explaining why this ship is harmless and they are not total jerks, say that fish and other creatures will just move when the sound starts up. But I haven't shared some of their equally cogent reasons such as:
this is a down fishing season so the fishermen won't be harmed (wrong, this is the most critical season for octopus); they and others have used seismic airguns for years and their is no proof of harm (wrong); there are lots of loud sounds out there like earthquakes and icebergs calving, what's wrong with a little more? (huh?) ; in the grand scheme of things, individuals don't matter, just populations (OK, we wont kill everyone, just your mother); the Gulf of Mexico has been pounded by airguns for years and seems okay (except for the big dead zone).
We need, it seems to me, to step back and think about what it would be like without a living ocean. Once, years ago in this long fight, a vice admiral once told Mac Hawley that if Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFA) could save one American service man or woman on an aircraft carrier then it was worth sacrificing the life of the oceans. Seems like there is a basic misunderstanding of how the world works and the proper ordering of threats. The ocean is our mother. Losing it would not be losing the place we go sunbathe. Losing it would end human life on earth.
The oceans are in big trouble. They only look like they can take anything we throw in them forever. Over seventy percent of the major fisheries are either collapsed or collapsing, despite ex- Representative Helen Chenoweth's incredulity about the fuss about endangered salmon "when you can buy it at any grocery store."
This threatened sound blasting of the Yucatan by the US scientific establishment is not occurring within a vacuum. It is happening when we are desperately trying to figure out how to save some of the fish, the corals, even the krill. Ninety percent of the large prey species are gone already. What morons.
There is a great poem by Gary Snyder in his Pulitzer winning book Turtle Island. It was a poem he delivered at the Stockholm Conference for Peace, I think, in 1972. It says something like,
"Rise up ant people, deer people, turtle people and pull back your giving from the arrogant head heavy bureaucrat robots who run this place."
What would happen if we all just stopped cooperating anymore in the funding or supporting of violence? Tomorrow when we wake up. Violence in the name of research, peace, religion, oil, water, clothes, love, drugs, our children, or food. Violence disguised as commerce, efficiency, curiosity, order, security or education. To use our best natures, in harmony and love with the rest of Nature, to walk away from our habits that are eating this world alive. What would happen to Bush and his gang of thugs if we didn't need them anymore?
We don't need our taxpayer dollars going to fund the Research Vessel Maurice Ewing to seismically blast the Yucatan coast and impact the already-struggling thousands of fishing families that live here. And we are not going to just let it happen anymore.
Volunteers today brought in the names of dozens of fishing families in Chuburna on a petition to stop the Ewing. They are apparently really riled and want to raise a big ruckus, have a big demonstration and bring their families. Good.
Another day without blasting. Sometimes the best blessings are the absence of things. Like pain. Grief. Noise. Addiction. Abuse. I give thanks for one more day of just normal life for the creatures here. No big deal. Just plain old life.
Thanks for everyone's prayers and good wishes. It ain't over.
Love and revolution,