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Damage from spill turning Gulf into 'biological black hole'

Joe MacInnis is a medical doctor, author and undersea explorer who studies leadership and teamwork in life-threatening environments from the deep ocean to outer space.

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Canadian undersea explorer Joe MacInnis led the first team that dived under the North Pole, and is among the few who have explored the wrecks of the Titanic and the Edmund Fitzgerald. He was also one of 28 academics, scientists and government and private-sector experts who met in Washington this month with movie director James Cameron - who has years of experience in deep-water exploration - to map out possible new strategies for dealing with the huge oil spill now spreading through the Gulf of Mexico.

Dr. MacInnis, one of the world's most respected ocean scientists, talked to reporter Richard Blackwell about the impact of the spill and why it is so damaging to a crucially important region of the world's oceans.

How do you feel personally about the spill?

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I am devastated, angry and frustrated. I feel so sympathetic to those people who live in the Gulf and I feel terrible for the ocean.

The world's largest ecosystem is [already]under enormous stress from all kinds of things - from global warming to acidification to overfishing - and suddenly the Gulf of Mexico, the ninth-largest body of water in the world, takes this colossal hit. It's [now]a biological black hole.

Where is the damage worst?

Everybody has been talking about what is going on at the surface, but there is a mile between the seabed and the surface. What is happening there? This is the time of year when the young of snapper and gill fish and lobster and all the incredible ecosystem components are spawning, and they are dying by the uncounted trillions. It is the killing fields.

How long will the spill be a key environmental issue?

As far as the ocean goes, for the next five years.

Have you worked in the Gulf?

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As a young diving physician, I worked for a large company in the Gulf of Mexico. I was responsible for the health and safety of commercial divers who worked on platforms and pipelines. I know the place and the people and the problems.

What is the problem with the images we are seeing from the sea floor of the Gulf?

The cameras that we see on the seabed now are low resolution and there are few of them. They give no picture whatsoever of what's actually [happening]on the seabed and in the water column. This is really something that should be changed immediately. Observation sites on the seabed around the well head [are needed.]Another big question is the status of the Deepwater Horizon, now lying on its side.

Is BP screwing up this recovery?

We [the Cameron group]all have a uniform high regard for what BP is trying to do. There is a consensus on how hard they are trying, and how difficult this is.

How do you know James Cameron?

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I've been on his last two deep-sea expeditions. He makes films and wins Academy Awards, but he is also an acclaimed deep-sea explorer. He has done very good science and good documentaries. The kid from Kapuskasing is still doing original thinking.

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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