gulf oil disaster
Check out Kate Walsh explaining her support of Oceana's campaign to end offshore drilling at yesterday's event. Kate has been a fantastic spokeswoman for us and we can't thank her enough for joining us at the Capitol.
This morning a small expedition on the Oceana Longitude including Oceana’s Soledad Scotto, Carlos Suárez, Fernando Loyola and Gorka Leclercq were sent out to Ship Island to look for signs from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Although there was too much wind to dive, there was a chance to go ashore.
Ship Island is shared name of two barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. Hurricane Camille tore through the island in 1969 and split the island in two. The island is famed for its rich cultural significance to the Gulf of Mexico. The Island became so important because of its deep-water harbor that served as vital anchorage for ships bearing explorers and colonists.
Upon the team’s arrival to Ship Island they found a cleaning patrol of around 30 or more people. The patrol was sifting and raking tar balls and oil spatter from the white sand beaches which surround the island. A few staff from the oil spill cleanup patrol recommended the Oceana team travel a bit further down the beach to an area that had yet to be cleaned.
After traveling about a half of a mile down the beach the team reached an area of beach dotted in oil spill patties and tar balls. Also found in the oil soaked sand were various shells and other flotsam and jetsam stained black from the oil.
Meanwhile on the Oceana Latitude, Oceana’s Pacific Science Director, Dr. Jeff Short, finished nailing down logistics of the oil plume experiment. Team members gathered the last of the necessary supplies and began experiment assembly. The team assembled over 800 ganion clips and 40 spliced floats.
Tomorrow we set sail for the Deepwater Horizon site to begin testing the waters.
Emily went up in a spotter plane last weekend to look for whale sharks, while senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor was on the Latitude waiting for word of the sharks' location so the scientists on board could follow them in order to tag the animals. Unfortunately, the sharks proved elusive. Here's Dustin's report:
The whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico spent the weekend hiding from the Oceana Latitude.
The crew spent two days searching for these sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana. Our hope was to tag some of them so that we could monitor their movements and contribute to scientists' understanding of the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on their survival. Whale sharks were observed swimming in surface oil near the gushing wellhead earlier this year.
The two spotter planes did have one sighting, but the four whale sharks dove too quickly for us to track them.
Oceana and the University of Southern Mississippi have not given up and will continue the search Tuesday.
Here’s Oceana marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson:
It wasn’t until we reached Grand Isle to drop off the shark experts that we saw a school of what appeared to be silky sharks.
During transit, the experts spent time talking with Associated Press reporter Rich Matthews. One thing is clear, no matter what direction you look in the Gulf of Mexico, there are always oil rigs in the landscape.
Yesterday, I wrote about tagging along with a NOAA crew as they searched for subsurface oil. The next day, I joined the Fish and Wildlife Service on an expedition with a much more easily visible goal: Checking out the breeding colonies of seabirds that have laid their nests near waters affected by the oil spill.
Nearly 1800 oiled birds have been recovered by rescue teams, and more than a thousand of those were already dead. The majority of the live birds go to Jay Holcomb's bird rescue center. Of course, the Gulf of Mexico is an enormous area, and it's only in recent weeks that a significant number of oiled birds have even been seen – meaning that in the two months since the Deepwater Horizon started gushing oil, there have probably been many more birds affected that we'll never know about.
"This is the tip of the iceberg, what we're bringing in," said Steve Martarano, a public affairs officer with FWS who organized the boat trip to visit the nesting birds. "But we're saving a lot of birds."
From Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald:
"Well, to quote Tony Hayward, he has got his life back, he would say," [White House Chief of Staff Rahm] Emanuel said of the outing at the yacht race, alluding to an earlier remark by Hayward that incensed political Washington.
Emanuel added: "What's more important is, do the people down there in that area have their life back? Do they have their livelihood back?"
NOAA restoration officer Sean Meehan deploys pompoms attached to a chain in Barataria Bay last week. He'll return in 24 hours to see if the pompoms have picked up any oil. I took this video while taking photographs at the same time, so be glad I have it pointed in mostly the right direction.
The Gulf oil disaster reminds me of that old Donald Rumsfeld chestnut, the one about known-knowns and known-unknowns. With a massive, ongoing gushing oil spill, and an enormous ecosystem at risk, we're in the realm of the "known unknown" – we know that there is a huge amount of oil moving through the Gulf, but no one’s quite sure exactly where it is or where it’s going.
A group of federal agencies, including NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service are trying to push us into the "known known" category with teams sent out on what are essentially reconnaissance missions. Two months into the oil disaster, they’re still grappling to understand the impacts on shorelines, turtles, mammals and more.
Last Thursday, for the first time, NOAA allowed a small group of ocean conservation activists to shadow a crew working on discovering the location and severity of subsurface oil. I joined our senior campaign director, Jackie Savitz, along with scientists and campaigners from Ocean Conservancy and the Gulf Restoration Network in a couple of skiffs that tailed the NOAA crew for a few hours on the water just east of Grand Isle, La.
Before we embarked, NOAA restoration specialist Sean Meehan gave us the rundown as we stood on the dock in Jean Lafitte, about 25 miles south of New Orleans. A jovial guy, Meehan is an experienced marine researcher, but even he acknowledged the unique difficulty of locating subsurface oil.
After writing about our visit to the bird rehab center in Louisiana last week, I promised to write a second post going into more detail about the cleaning process for oiled birds the next day. Well, I ended up on a boat for a couple of days, and the week got away from me – so here’s my long-promised update!
Jay Holcomb's International Bird Rescue Research Center is managing the cleaning process for most of the birds taken off the water after the oil spill. So far, they’ve had nearly 600 birds go through the process, mostly pelicans. The space the rescue center inhabits is a large warehouse in the bayou, but they’re already running out of room: While we were there, a worker was building new outdoor cages.
There are no interior walls in the warehouse, which has an assembly-line precision: The birds arrive in pet carriers and are quickly evaluated by a vet in scrubs and rubber boots in one corner known as the medical station, and then they’re placed in plywood-sided compartments with other birds. The birds we saw were all pretty well covered in oil, and in varying states of distress.
Today, senior campaign director Jackie Savitz and I went on the first boat trip for conservation groups to observe NOAA's attempt to understand the scope of the oil spill and how to respond to it. The crew we shadowed was trying to measure oil underneath the Gulf's surface. Along the way, we saw shrimpers turned oil skimmers, reddish oil on the water and sadly, a pod of dolphins including calves swimming and feeding in the oil-polluted waters.
In this video, Jackie summarizes a lot of what we saw. We'll have much more video and photos from the trip soon, so stay tuned. Thanks to NOAA for allowing us to come along and learn about this critical work.
In a civic center in St. Bernard Parish last night, BP and government agencies working on the oil spill set up folding chairs and posterboards describing their work in a kind of high school science fair approach to meeting the public. There was NOAA, setting up vials of simulated dispersed oil like a flight of wine; there was the Coast Guard captain in charge of the recovery, Roger Laferriere, giving a heartfelt speech about his dedication to Louisiana with the earnest aplomb of a student body president.
But while the attendees were dominated by a scrum of reporters and camera crews, there were a few hopeful locals mostly interested in meeting one man: Kurt A. Hansen, a project manager with the Coast Guard standing between a table and a sign plainly marked "Alternative Response Technology."
Hansen's job is to take ideas from the public about the fixing the oil spill. He has the inscrutable expression of a man who’s heard it all.
When I approached his table, Hansen was listening patiently to a man complaining that he’d been ignored by BP for weeks.