THE BLOG
06/15/2010 06:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Get the Hair Down There

A magnificent bird is the pelican
His beak can hold more than his belly can
He holds in his beak
enough food for a week
and I don't know how in the hell 'e can
.

My grandfather used to recite that poem to us nearly every time we saw one plunge into the ocean after a fish. And this was often, because my grandparents' house was on Manasota Key on the west coast of Florida, so the Gulf of Mexico was our back yard.

I always thought the poem was his (only recently discovered other iterations on the Internet). We thrilled to it, my cousins and I, in part because it contained a "bad" word, but also because of the relish with which he delivered the rhyme.

Much of my childhood was spent trolling that beach, digging up coquinas, running with swarms of bright orange hermit crabs, seeking out ghost crabs at night by flashlight while someone told scary stories -- and in general taking it all completely for granted.

The poem, though, made me take special note of pelicans, which I had previously thought ungainly and unattractive. They weren't, then They are now -- as they struggle to remove oil from their feathers and faces, or try to fly. The pictures are like acid on my heart and a blunt fish knife gutting my stomach.

Like thousands of others, frustration and helplessness over the enormity of the BP oil spill catastrophe clouds daily activity.

Then I learned about hair being useful to soak up oil. Hair I know; I cover it frequently. Salons sweep up masses of it every day. And many of them have been doing just that, and donating to organizations like Matter of Trust, a non-for profit that's active in making hair booms -- lengths of nylon filled with hair to attract and capture oil (think how well it works in your shower drain).

But a larger enterprise for hair donation seemed necessary; I called it Tresses for Messes, designed a logo and phoned FedEx to see if we could set up a more organized system of hair collection and retrieval from salons and pet groomers in New York.

Turns out a little girl in Penn. had already dubbed her hometown project Tresses for Messes. Great, get her involved, and actually why not all the hair salons around the country -- a nationwide hair retrieval system for enough booms to make a dent in this huge mess.

But FedEx called back (to their credit) -- BP wasn't taking any more hair donations. Why? The leak is still gushing.

I finally reached Lisa Gautier, President of MatterofTrust.org. They're getting thousands of calls to donate hair, fur, fleece and so on. But she told me BP said their hair booms are better than Matter of Trust's hair booms and they'd handle it.

Who cares whose booms are bigger or better? On a recent Rachel Maddow show, Maddow discovered that although more than 2 million feet of hair booms have been implemented so far, it's a drop in the bucket in comparison to what is needed. In the gulf town she visited, she saw boom apparatus

"un-tethered from its pickets and its anchors piled up on shore, doing absolutely nothing, because nobody is around to maintain it..."

Hair is an endless resource. But it needs to managed, in this case collected, processed and transported directly to where it's needed, and now.

Here's a strategy:

  • Any of the 370, 000 salons in the U.S. print off a logo, put it in the window as participating in hair retrieval.
  • They also sign up on a website so their location is easily identified and tracked.
  • A FedEx truck -- or DHL, or UPS, or USPS, whoever -- picks it up and gets it down to the Gulf coast; we need everybody now; this is the time for cooperation, not competition.
  • Utilize more warehouses gone empty and unused from the Recession. (Matter of Trust has a number of donated warehouses, but no doubt more could be utilized).
  • Employ the hundreds of fishermen & people in related industries out of work due to this disaster.
  • Teach them to make the "right kind" of booms & get them out there (Matter of Trust suggests this could "restimulate the textile felting industries in the U.S." )
  • And have a phalanx of people to change out the oil-soaked booms regularly

The hair can be used. Because according to Gautier, it's not just this oil spill, it's hundreds of smaller oils spills happening all over, all the time.

And it gets worse. In addition to area we can see, there's untold damage being done to undersea life. I learned about Pulley Ridge, off Florida's southwest coast, at an Explorer's Club seminar on oceanographic exploration a few years ago. This fragile ecosystem filled with previously unseen sea life and delicate exotic flora is an only recently explored area, according to presenter Tim Taylor, president of RV Tiburon Inc, because of new technology that allowed divers to get down that far. Possibly the deepest coral reef on the continental shelf of the United States, Pulley Ridge could show us how reefs are renewing themselves on the planet. But not if it's suffocated in infancy -- by not only oil, but the dispersants used on the spill -- say environmentalists and independent scientists.

So hair booms it is. Recent estimates put the "spill" at 100 million barrels of oil into the sea so far. On Maddow's show, marine conservationist Rick Steiner said:

"[I]t's worth trying to do it right. We've got to try to keep the oil out of the sensitive habitats. And also the sorbent boom--that's that white sausage-looking cylindrical boom --that's good stuff, because it absorbs the oil that's in the water.

But [you have to] take the saturated sorbent boom out of the water when it gets heavily saturated with oil and put fresh stuff in. They're not doing that. They really are not tending this operation.

They set the booms out and then come home. And the anchors are breaking.... The oiled sorbent boom is washing up to the shoreline right where the seabird nests are."

Here's where BP comes in: They stop worrying about whose boom is best, and foot the bill for a workforce to properly transport, assemble, and man these booms, instead of spending all that money buying Google keywords, lobbyists, and PR strategies to rebuild their image. This is a strategy to rebuild their image. Put Americans back to work to save a vital area of the country. Steiner said, " ...it's not rocket science. [T]hey need to at least try something."

There's plenty of blame and responsibility to go around, but strategy needs to outdistance complaining right now. Every corporation needs to kick in here, especially ones that have laid off hundreds of workers in the last two years. This is not bailout territory. Because we are all covered in oil. Like the pelicans. We are being waterboarded by it.

A magnificent bird is the pelican....

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty...

We can figure this out. But we have to do something, now. This is what I've come up with so far. What've you got?