oceana gulf expedition
After several days of rough seas, the crew finally got a break from Mother Nature, making their difficult task of retrieving the moorings a bit easier. But the oil rig that caught fire yesterday set everyone on edge, especially considering how close they were to the Deepwater Horizon. Here’s Will Race’s update from the last few days:
Wednesday, September 1:
Rest and recuperation was the theme for today. After five days of exhausting work the Oceana team ventured back out to the Deepwater Horizon mooring sites to continue retrieval.
Due to time restrictions and rough weather, only half the moorings from the originally planned experiment were set. Yes, this is science -- things don’t always go as planned. The zones with the highest level of importance have been covered and other areas of interest will have to wait.
The weather continues to throw roadblocks against the expedition. High seas and winds up to 30mph made it impossible to do any CTD scans today, and made the ride extremely rough and unpredictable. Tables, chairs and anything that was not tied down became airborne after every wave’s crest. Eventually it got bad enough that the captain of the ship altered course for “smoother” seas.
Today’s journey took us back out to sea and the closest to the Deepwater Horizon site so far this expedition. The amount of activity taking place around the relief well is astonishing. As the sun set and the light faded, the entire site was illuminated and it was unbelievable how much is going on there. It looked like a small city skyline at night.
Nautica is a huge supporter of our expedition in the Gulf of Mexico; thanks to their generous support, we are able to fund our deepwater ROV, among other important (but expensive) projects on-board the Oceana Latitude.
And now Nautica has designed a t-shirt for us so that all of you can show your support for the gulf, and our work there, in style.
The proceeds from the shirts will, of course, go toward our work to protect the oceans.
So go get your limited-edition tee now, while supplies last!
The last few days have been a whirlwind for the Latitude crew. Here’s the latest from Will Race on the ongoing experiment to measure the oil plume near the Deepwater Horizon:
Morning came fast on Monday. By 6:30 am the entire crew was on deck ready to deploy the first mooring. But instead of a beautiful sunrise, we were greeted by an unnerving thunder and lighting show.
Eight was the lucky number: The eight man crew successfully deployed eight moorings. The complete process, from the preparation of anchors and lines, to deploying the anchor, marking the line, and clipping on test strips went smoothly and efficiently.
The weather calmed down after the morning storm and was key to the efficiency of the day. For the first time during this leg of the trip, the Oceana team finally had the pleasure of setting the last mooring of the day to a breathtaking sunset.
In today's update from the boat, Will Race describes the crew's arrival at oil spill ground zero to deploy oil measuring straps. As you can see from today's photos, the crew endured the roughest conditions on the expeditions yet:
The site of the Deepwater Horizon was the focus of the day. The objective was to establish a 10 kilometer diameter of moorings around Deepwater Horizon site. With an average water depth of 1600 meters, the Oceana team knew it would be a long day.
At 6:30am team members positioned themselves on deck and had the pleasure of witnessing a beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunrise. Amidst the landscape of sunny cumulous clouds and dark unwieldy thunder fronts, there sat the site of the Deepwater Horizon. It was very noticeable thanks to the small city that has been crafted around the site. Shadows loomed over the spill site and brought a sobering reminder to what the objective of the day was.
On Friday the Latitude set off on the next leg of the journey: measuring the underwater oil plume in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s our on-board dispatcher for this leg, Will Race, on the very wet start to the experiment:
On Friday, the crew held a strategy meeting to discuss the next seven days and what’s in store. Pacific Science Director Dr. Jeff Short explained his science experiment: The basic approach for evaluating the subsurface oil plumes will be the deployment of an array of moorings with sensor strips every 100 meters.
Moorings will be deployed in three main areas: 12 within 5 km of the wellhead, 12 in a rectangular array extending up to 90 km to the northeast of the wellhead, and 12 in another rectangular array extending up to 90 km southwest of the wellhead.
With everyone in agreement, it was time to go. Due to the drastically shallow shore line, the Mississippi Port Authorities require a local captain come aboard to navigate boats through the shallows, until they are offshore. An additional treat was when pelicans and various other marine birds decided to escort us out to sea.
Once out at sea, the Oceana team continued to assemble gear for the next day’s first mooring drop. We traveled nearly 10 hours to the first drop site.
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.
Hermit crabs are crustaceans but unlike their relatives, they do not have a hard bodies - they are the couch potatoes of the crab world. In order to protect their tender asymmetrical middles, hermit crabs live in discard shells, moving to larger abodes as they grow.
This particular hermit was captured on film in Egmont Key.
While Oceana’s senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor gets a much-deserved break on land, Pacific administrative assistant Will Race will be sending us updates from the boat for the next few weeks. Here’s Will's first post:
Wednesday brought heat, humidity and eight new Oceana staff members, who will take part in a two-week oil plume experiment. Alongside Vice President of Oceana Europe, Xavier Pastor, the experiment will be led by Pacific Director, Susan Murray and Pacific Science Director, Dr. Jeff Short. The team will head out Friday to begin the study.
The Oceana Latitude also had to say goodbye to ROV operator Matthias Gorny and Oceana Pacific office staff Cayleigh Allen. The two embarked on a three day journey to Monterey, California, where they will participate in the Oceana Pacific California Current expedition and use the ROV to document important ecological areas of Monterey Bay.
This camouflaged flatfish looks up at an Oceana diver from the sea floor off the coast of Panama City, FL.
Flatfish are an order of fish that, like their name suggests, are relatively flat. Their eyes are on one side of their head, with some species "left facing", some "right facing", and others can face either way.
Tuesday was a busy day on the Latitude, as the crew docked in Mississippi to share preliminary findings of the first weeks on the water. Here's Dustin's update:
The Oceana Latitude arrived in Gulfport, Miss., late Monday. Over the next few days, equipment for Oceana’s upcoming deepwater oil exploration efforts will be loaded onto the vessel.
On Tuesday, Oceana was joined for a press conference by corporate partner Nautica and celebrity activists, including award-winning actors Ted Danson and Morgan Freeman as well as New York-based Spanish model Almudena Fernandez and San Pedro (Belize) mayor Elsa Paz.
At the press conference, experts provided an update on the first legs of the two-month research expedition and discussed the approaching efforts to map the subsurface oil plume with cutting-edge science and document seafloor habitat areas that may have been harmed by underwater oil with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of reaching depths of more than 3,200 feet and filming in high-definition.
The press conference was covered by several media outlets, including Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, EFE, CBC Radio, Biloxi Sun Herald, Mississippi Press and local ABC affiliate WLOX.
Scientist-in-charge of the expedition Dr. Michael Hirshfield also led two tours to Ship Island on Tuesday. Ship Island, which survived Hurricane’s Camille and Katrina, was devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although this island’s fort was once capable of protecting the local coasts, it was no defense against oil. According to BP contractors, 1,200 pounds of sandy tar balls were removed from the island Tuesday, 1,400 pounds Monday and 1,600 pounds Sunday.