Athletes Visit Devastated Gulf Coast

Mitch McDonald – NHLPA.com

Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins has been an active and vocal proponent for the environment for quite some time and he uses his role as an athlete to go far just providing sound bites.

“This isn't just about doing this as a hockey player, this is a lifelong thing for me. I want to leave this world a better place for my daughters and be able to look them in the eye when they're older and say ‘I did all I could,'” Ference told NHLPA.com.

The 31-year old native of Calgary, AB was recently asked to travel to the Gulf of Mexico with a group of fellow current and former professional athletes from various sports – arranged by the Sierra Club – to see the devastation that BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig has done to the area since it exploded on April 20th and started hemorrhaging crude oil into the water.

Involved with environmental issues of his own for years, as well as through NHLPA initiatives such as the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge which he spearheaded, Andrew met former NHLPA member and New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter at an organic food expo and came to find that they shared very similar ideals.

The two then worked together on programs such as Athletes For a Healthy Planet and after keeping in touch over the years, Richter recently came to Ference with an offer to be a part of a group of athletes that would travel to the Gulf Coast following the BP disaster. Ference welcomed the opportunity to travel to Louisiana with his wife Krista (a former professional snowboarder) who shares his concern for the environment, as well as with other like-minded professional athletes.

The group left dry land from the Myrtle Grove Marina, about an hour away from New Orleans, and was taken out to Barataria Bay, Cat Island and Bay Jimmy on a boat tour. Desperate for work because of the spill, local fishermen have been using their boats to take marine biologists, media members and similar groups out into the waters to witness the catastrophe first-hand.

“The little section we saw, we saw a lot of marshland and just to see the destruction of it, to know that stretches to Florida, I can't even comprehend it,” Ference said.

What the group saw out on the water was horrifying, but to Ference it was the effect the disaster was having on the local fisherman and business owners that was even more troubling.

“This is just a smack across the face to see how devastated the lives of these people are.” said Ference, who also met with groups of local residents and discussed their plights at length. “The anxiety, the stress levels, the domestic violence, the depression, the uncertainty, the suicides; you just go down the list of things these communities are going through right now with the loss of their livelihoods. You hear the personal stories of the fisherman and it's all they ever knew how to do for generations.”

“Seeing this disaster firsthand, I was struck by the vastness of the problem…As athletes we understand the connection between the environment and health. We want everyone to understand these issues aren't just about the environment, they're about people, health, economy, and quality of life,” Richter said following the athletes' tour of the Gulf Coast.

Capping the well and coping with the millions upon millions of gallons of oil that have already poured into the Gulf of Mexico is one problem, but, as Ference suggests, this is a much more far-reaching problem that is hardly limited to British Petroleum. He feels that more needs to be done to positively effect the environment and that renewable means of energy must be better embraced on a mass-scale to replace fossil fuels, citing countries such as Germany and China that have already made in-roads towards cleaner, sustainable technologies.

“There are not too many things in this world that actually scare me,” Ference said, “but seeing some of the things we're doing to this earth, seeing how slow we are to change even in the face of a disaster like this and seeing the politics being played when we should be coming up with solutions, those things scare me. And these issues are real, not some far-off thing. And our generation has no excuses. Being engaged and talking about it is one of the most powerful things that you can do. Individuals can make differences”

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