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Reasons to worry

I love the ocean.

There’s something about it that calms the soul, relaxes the body and refreshes the mind. The smell of the salt water is therapeutic and one can spend hours looking at a glassy surface wondering what lies beneath.

Since last April I have been following the story of the Manolis L. The sunken paper carrier that in its glory days had carried paper from Botwood. On one particular trip in 1985 the vessel ran aground on Blow Hard Rock near Change Islands.

When it was obvious that the vessel was going nowhere the crew was evacuated and the Manolis L. sat on the rocks for three days until it sank. (While sitting there is was looted by a few fellows from Cobb’s Arm, but no harm done, they returned what they had taken and all was well.)

For 28 years the vessel sat undisturbed, but in March of last year the Manolis L. made itself known to residents of Change Islands once more.

A storm, some oil and a temporary solution later and I am submersed in following the fight to have the Federal Government fund the removal of about 500 tonnes of Bunker C oil and 100 tonnes of light diesel from the vessel.

When photos of oil sheens and oiled birds began to surface I have to admit — in my opinion — the birds didn’t look that bad. Not that I’m an avid hunter and despite my husband’s many hunting expeditions with “the boys”, there haven’t been many ducks roasted in my oven.

It wasn’t until I travelled to Twillingate on Jan. 16 to cover the public meeting Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms held regarding the Manolis L. that I fully understood the severity of the issue.

I had the opportunity to see one of the oiled ducks for myself and it was an eye opener. The top of the duck was normal — dry, fluffy feathers that protected its body from the harsh elements it lived in. The bottom of the duck was another story. It was covered with oil and covered can’t begin to describe what I actually saw.

The bird’s feathers were thick and matted, stuck together as if black glue had been poured into every crevice. The once waterproof seal that protected them was gone leaving its skin exposed to the wet and cold weather. If you have every picked up a feather on a beach it is smooth below the tiny strands that make up the feather. This is what the ducks feathers looked like as they protruded from the skin, smooth and stark.

The feathers smelled of diesel and I was told by a seasoned hunter that once the feathers were oiled the bird would pick at them in an attempt to pick them out of their body. Maybe they knew this foreign substance was going kill them and they were trying to rid themselves of a disease of some sort — strictly opinion.

Once the feathers were plucked out hypothermia would set in and the birds would freeze. Sort of ironic, birds that live on the icy cold salt water could freeze.

After meeting with the hunter I drove as far as the road would take me and I bundled up in my rubber boots, mittens and hat to take some photos of the beautiful surrondings that are Twillingate.

As I stared out over the rough surface of the water I wondered what if the Manolis L. lets go of its oil before it can be removed. The oil wasn’t going to stay in one place and wait to be cleaned up. It would move with the ebb and flow of the ocean and eventually make its way to the waters around Lewisporte, Embree, Brown’s Arm and anywhere else the wind and waves decided it would move it. Would we see seals, fish and other wildlife matted and dead from oil? Or would the unthinkable happen, would we ourselves find it on our feet as we stroll along our beaches and our children play in the coves?

I hope and pray we don’t have to find out.

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