The water was cold over my shoulders as I pulled myself deeper and deeper into the abyss. I didn't come down here very often and now I remembered why. It was cold and dark and way out of my way, but I made a promise, so here goes. It felt like hours, but I know it couldn't have been more that a few minutes; time always goes so slowly when I'm here, and then I saw what I was looking for. There in the distance was the Counsel. There were eight of them and they all looked up as I approached. They were warming themselves around a hydrothermal vent and talking in hushed voices. The moment I arrived, they exchanged knowing looks and fell silent. That was fine with me, what I had to tell them would turn their world upside down and there was no time to lose. Oil was leaking from an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and if we worked fast, we could still protect the waters, but time was running out. Now I just had to get them to listen and I knew that might be tough.
My dad was a high counsel member and it was his prerogative to choose who would take his seat when he was gone. No one could believe it when he chose me. We all thought there would be time to talk him out of it, but there wasn't. He signed his proclamation and passed away before the wax seal even had a chance to dry. There I was, sixteen years old and appointed to the Ancient Order of the High Seas Counsel; the governing body of every ocean on the planet. Life changed forever in that moment and it was about to get even more complicated.
I nodded to the other members and took my seat. The heat from the vent felt good on my arms and my tail began to relax as I curled it underneath me. They were not exactly happy to see me, but they couldn't do too much about it. My dad was loved and well respected by the Mer and no one dared to deny his last wish.
As usual, they were in a heated debate about fishing rights. The fishing industry in the Mediterranean wanted more branzino and the shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico needed more shrimp. Most of you humans don't know this, but I'll share a cool secret with you. It was my dad, Sal, who brokered the first treaty with the humans. Given how excited and scared most people got when they saw us, we knew that it would be best for everyone if the Mer became the stuff of storybooks and legends. The deal was simple. We would share the riches of the ocean with humanity and in return, you would leave more than seventy-five percent of the ocean unexplored. Together, our two civilizations would share this glorious planet. Land for you, sea for us and only a little commerce between the two. We would share the fish, but not the water. You would share the air, but not the land. Our borders are the beaches and while we may see each other from a distance, both sides stay pretty much in their own territory. We don't mind humans traveling over the water and you have come to expect that the oceans will claim some of the land from time to time; but mostly, my dad's deal has resulted in eons of peace. Until now.
In the late 1800's a guy named H.L. Williams dug the first off shore oil rig and the people of the Mer were not amused. We have no use for the oil and we don't even mind if the humans take it, but the way they drill is dangerous for everyone. My dad tried for years to work out a new treaty with the humans but, two things frustrated every attempt. First of all, the people of the Mer live for hundreds of years, but a human is lucky to live to be even one hundred years old. My dad would finally be at a crucial stage in the agreement and the human representative would retire and the Mer had to start all over again. The second problem was harder to figure out. Every time the treaty moved forward, the Counsel would change the requirements and the negotiations had to start again from the beginning. There is no overriding a High Counsel Order, but it just didn't make sense that they kept delaying the treaty. The humans were drilling and without the treaty, there was no way for the Mer to maintain control of the ocean. Delay made no sense and yet it happened over and over again. It was clear that the humans could not get at the oil safely without the help of the Mer, yet we couldn't get involved without the treaty. It made no sense to my dad or to me.
I was determined to figure it out, but right now I had a much bigger problem. The Big Driller oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico has started a slow leak. It will be undetectable to the humans for weeks, but the Mer in the area can smell it and the sea turtles are warning the fish to stay away. No wonder the shrimp boats in the area are complaining. I cleared my throat and stood.
"High Counsel, I must interrupt this discussion about fishing rights. We have an emergency on our hands, but we still have time to address it and I have a plan to..."
Before I could finish, Nautus thundered. "Sit down you insolent child! Your father may have given you a seat here, but make no mistake; that doesn't mean the rest of this counsel plans to waste its valuable time on your fantasies."
I tried to explain that by emergency, I meant a real crisis right now, but they wouldn't hear it. The moment I said the word "Oil rig" they began to laugh at me and said I was just like my dad, always worrying about the oil drilling. I was furious and I seriously thought I might explode. No wonder my dad couldn't get the treaty amended, the Counsel seemed to think the whole thing was already under control.
I wish I could say I had the time or the patience to get their attention, enlist their help and protect the Gulf, but it wouldn't be true. I didn't. Instead I left and swam to the Gulf of Mexico as fast as I could. The Counsel might not be able to help, but I knew that I could. My bad temper made me swim like a barracuda and I covered the great distance in a little over two hours. What I saw when I got there stopped me cold. The fish were dying all around me and the water was black and slick. I started choking and I made a break for the surface. The scene above the water was even worse. There were helicopters and boats everywhere. Humans were taking pictures and shouting and the terror in their faces made it clear that they had no idea how to make it stop. The oil slick stretched on for miles and the air was filled with the stench of sweat, fear and death.
I dove again and got closer to the drill. I knew it would be a while before the human divers arrived and I hoped I would be able to figure out a way to stem the flow. I could see the broken gasket and I held my breath and reached for it. That's when my life changed again.
The ocean heaved and the drill itself was thrown aside. The sandy floor disappeared in a cold rush as the contents of the oil well exploded underground. The surge of oil and dirt and rocks shot out of the ground with such force that it created a fountain of filth on the surface. At least that's what they told me later. I didn't see it, I was tossed back against the rocks and for a few moments, there was no oil spill, there was just a beautiful dream of racing seahorses with my dad. I floated up to the surface and flames licked my fins. I opened my eyes and closed them tight again. The ocean was on fire. The sea was a roaring and burning and I knew it would never be the same again.