Last week's massive oil spill in the Persian Gulf may prove to be of dubious military value, but it will almost certainly have tragic consequences for the environment of the region for years to come. U.S. authorities said the spill was caused when Iraq emptied oil into the gulf from a loading terminal and five tankers, and as of Monday of this week, five days after the flow was detected, an estimated 450 million gallons of oil had leaked into the gulf. That made it the largest oil spill in history, 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989. Mark Whiteis-Helm, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told The Washington Post, "We're talking about the kind of environmental disaster the world has never seen before."
Immediately at risk is the multimillion-dollar fishing industry in the gulf. This is spawning time for shrimp, and their spawning areas are in the predicted path of the slick. Grouper and Spanish mackerel are also plentiful, and the oil could suffocate them. Says Dr. Andrew Price, a marine ecologist and expert on the gulf, "Shrimp and fish have sustained the coastal society for centuries, perhaps millennia." According to Price, there are two endangered species of turtle in the gulf, the hawks-bill and the green, as well as 3,500 to 7,500 dugongs, a variety of sea cow. Among the wading birds that will die are oystercatchers, plovers and stilts.
"Immediate kills are obvious," says Dr. John Farrington, a specialist in oil pollution at the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution. "But there will also be a lot of sublethal impacts on organisms, such as reduced reproduction." Farrington notes that in 1989, while studying marsh sediments near Woods Hole, he found oil compounds that he traced to a spill in 1969.
THEY'RE AMERICANS TOO
One of the early casualties of the gulf war has been a sense of fairness and tolerance here at home. Some Arab-Americans, through no fault of their own, have already been the victims of bias and ignorance.
The problem is of special concern in Dearborn, Mich., which has one of the largest Arab-American communities in the country'. Eleven of the 13 players on the basketball team at Dearborn's Ford-son High are Arab-Americans. All season long, the team has been the target of nasty taunts. Says junior point guard Haisam Abadi, "In one game [against Roosevelt High of Wyandotte] someone said, 'Go back to Saudi Arabia. You're not wanted here.' Every game something like that is said."
Never mind that Saudi Arabia is an ally of the U.S.—or, for that matter, that most of the Fordson players are of Lebanese descent. Bigotry hasn't time for such fine distinctions. Fordson athletic director John Spain told Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press of a phone call he got recently from a parent complaining that a Fordson wrestler had HUSSEIN written on his warmup. "She didn't think it was appropriate," Spain told McCabe. "Well, that's the kid's name."
PAR FOR THE CORPSE
People are dying to get into the Ahlgrim and Sons Funeral Home in suburban Chicago these days, but not all go in feet first. Some bring scorecards and putters. In the mortuary's basement, owner Roger Ahlgrim has built a nine-hole miniature golf course that capitalizes on its creepy location. The first hole features a skull with blinking red eyes. The fourth is a kind of pinball machine, with headstones for bumpers. "I have all my employees' names on them," says Ahlgrim, "including my own."