My other photos of the day have been cool underwater creatures. But today, my focus is something you can see above the waves. This beautiful photo is marred by that pesky oil rig in the distance, otherwise breaking up a fantastic sunset.
It is no surprise that as an ocean conservation group, we are against offshore drilling. Our expedition will continue for several more weeks, looking for how the BP drilling diaster has affected the area. But we are also working to make sure that an event like this never happens again.
On my second attempt to spot whale sharks yesterday, I flew with the effervescent Bonny Schumaker, whose organization On Wings of Care helps protect wildlife and their habitats by helping with search, rescue, rehabilitation and scientific research. Samantha Whitcraft of the non-profit Oceanic Defense also joined us for the flight. We took off from New Orleans and flew about 50 miles south over the Gulf.
Bonny and her 4-seater plane, whom she lovingly refers to as “Bessie,” have years of experience spotting wildlife. Unfortunately, despite Bonny and Bessie’s best efforts, the conditions yesterday were simply not ideal for finding marine life. Choppy waters and white caps made it a challenge to see much of anything besides oil rigs, oil boom and barrier islands:
By Oceana's Gulf Expedition Leader, Xavier Pastor
As you know, we’re in the midst of an eight-week expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. We wanted to tell you about our ship, the Oceana Latitude.
The Latitude is an impressive vessel that has been used by its owner for fishing on the high seas. It is a nice cruise boat that we have turned into a research vessel to support our scientific expedition to find out more about the effects of the oil spill. We thank the owner greatly, who has given us the boat at cost to make our work possible in the Gulf. It made the Latitude the cheapest boat available for our two-month expedition.
Here are some other facts about our boat:
I’m here in steamy Gulfport, Mississippi helping out with our expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. The second largest city in Mississippi, Gulfport was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has taken an environmental and economic hit from the oil spill.
Yesterday I went up in a spotter plane to try and spot whale sharks. If we caught sight of one, we planned to radio to our boat, the Latitude, and let the crew know where the sharks were so they could tag them.
Unfortunately, we had to turn back to the airport before spotting anything – except some abandoned oil boom and a few dolphins -- because the clouds began to look ominous, and the pilot didn’t want to risk getting caught in a thunderstorm (nor did I). It was quite a treat to be up in a four-seater plane looking over the vast network of wetlands and tributaries that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.
In today's expedition update from Dustin, the crew begins the next leg of the journey: whale shark tagging!
The Oceana Latitude gained five new crew members today for its upcoming effort to tag whale sharks off the coast of southeastern Louisiana.
Oceana’s vice president for Chile, Alex Munoz, and marine scientist Elizabeth Wilson joined Dr. Eric Hoffmayer and Jennifer McKinney from the University of Southern Mississippi. Here’s Dr. Hoffmayer on a recent segment of NBC Nightly News:
In today's dispatch from Dustin, the crew is suddenly surrounded by oil rigs in the gulf:
The Oceana Latitude navigated through a minefield of hundreds of oil platforms (out of the thousands that exist in the Gulf of Mexico) today.
Although Oceana’s experts were aware of the size of the industry in the region, seeing the rigs in person put it into an entirely new perspective. It’s truly dumb luck that we haven't faced more problems up to now. Dr. Mike Hirshfield, Oceana's Chief Scientist said, "Seeing another Transocean deepwater drilling rig poised to resume drilling as soon as someone gives them permission sent a cold chill down my back."
And don’t worry if you haven’t seen one of these rigs for yourself, as Congress and the Obama Administration could be bringing them to a coast near you unless we all join together in opposition of new offshore drilling.
Yesterday, our scientist Matthias Gorny was unsure if he could identify indications of abandoned oil wells on the Gulf floor using the ROV from the Oceana Latitude. But in our dispatch from today, Dustin Cranor has let us know that Matthias has evaluated the ROV footage further - and this time come up with signs of an abandoned well 90 feet underwater. Along an otherwise flat seafloor, Gorny discovered a raised surface approximately three feet high with black sediment excavated by worms, which indicates a presence of hydrocarbons.
Check out this slideshow of images captured by the ROV.
The Gulf of Mexico is threatened by more than just offshore drilling. Industrial fishing has destroyed many habitats already, as our team saw yesterday. Here's Dustin's update from the Latitude:
A recent story by the Associated Press revealed that there are more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these wells are believed to still be leaking oil into the Gulf.
Oceana sent its ROV from Chile down (approximately 90 feet to the seafloor) today off the coast of Alabama to investigate an abandoned oil well that began drilling in 1981.
Oceana was unable to find any infrastructure from the abandoned well. However, the ROV did allow us to see the result of using destructive fishing gear in the area. The sea floor at this location was leveled. Trawls appeared to have bulldozed everything in their path, leaving only broken shells and a few remaining fish and sea stars.
Here's Oceana's ROV operator and science director for Chile Matthias Gorny:
Nope, this isn't an alien specimen. Related to corals and jellyfish, anemones are predatory creatures who use poisons in their tentacles to capture and immoblize their prey. Anemonefish, or clownfish, are not affected by anemone toxins and find shelter in their tentacles.
This translucent beauty was spotted during Oceana's research expedition off the coast of Panama City, Florida.
A few days ago, I posted a video of Oceana marine scientist Margot getting ready to test the waters of the Florida Keys looking for baby fish. Margot attached a small video camera to the microscope and then pulled the following still images from the video. Pretty cool, huh?
Margot was pleased to find a lot of healthy shellfish, including lobsters and crabs. The expedition crew plans to do similar testing near the oil spill site to see if these same species have been covered in oil.