The Beacon: suzannah's blog
Oceana was joined by longtime supporters Kate Walsh ("Private Practice" and "Grey's Anatomy") and Aaron Peirsol (gold medal-winning swimmer) in Washington, D.C. today to remember the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. We were also joined by Patty Whitney, a Louisiana resident-turned-activist whose home was affected by last year's disaster.
Along with campaign director Jackie Savitz, and a slew of energetic volunteers, the group served to remind us that offshore drilling is never safe - and that an oil spill could happen anywhere. Check out this slideshow of images from today's event.
On the anniversary of the oil spill, New York Times columnist and author Mark Bittman sat down with Ted Danson to talk about Ted's book, "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them." I can't embed the video here, but be sure to hop over to the Times' site to watch the clip! Enjoy.
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.
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, 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:
The Oceana Latitude is making its final preparations for eight weeks on the water. We got this dispatch from our trusty senior campaigns communications manager, Dustin Cranor:
Good news. The satellite internet and phone system is back up and running.
The crew took advantage of the day by spending time testing a majority of the equipment onboard the Oceana Latitude.
Matthias Gorny, from Oceana’s Chilean office, launched the ROV from the vessel to assess its standard operating procedures, including ensuring that its seals were working properly. The Longitude, a 42 foot boat adapted for Oceana’s research needs, was also deployed for at sea testing.
I’m happy to report that everything worked as planned.
Click here to see a slideshow of photos from the preparations, including a visit from Spanish model Almudena Fernandez.
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."
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.
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