The picture, taken in 1992, shows my then eighteen-month-old son sitting on the beach at Sanibel Island, the string in his hand extending upwards towards the edge of the photograph. As he looks to the sky and the kite that flutters above, the smile on his face is as bright as the sands around him.
The recent news that Sanibel Island will apparently be spared the ravages of the BP oil gush, while welcome, offers no consolation to the residents of the Florida panhandle who are already seeing the effects of the ecological disaster. Newspapers carry daily pictures of dark blotches across north Florida beaches, and television news stories depict images of residents staring wistfully at the sea, awaiting the next wave of black.
In 1959 Stanley Kramer, who would later direct such classics as Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), released the apocalyptic film On the Beach. Based on a 1957 novel by British-Australian author Nevil Shute, the story centers around citizens of Australia awaiting the arrival of deadly radiation after World War III and nuclear fallout have destroyed all life throughout the planet. Several scenes in the film have its protagonists looking out from the Australian shore to skies that will inevitably deliver death. Such scenes are eerily similar to what we are today seeing in the Gulf coast.
The effects of the BP debacle are nowhere as dramatic as those depicted in the film, yet analogies can be made. The spreading oil has already destroyed marine life, decades-old businesses and tourism throughout the Gulf. While the citizens of the Florida panhandle are not awaiting the end of all human life, they are witnessing the final chapter of life as they know it. They will be dealing with the effects of the oil for decades, and the pristine white of their beaches will exist only in their memories and old photographs of what once was.