The Beacon

Blog Tags: Gulf Of Mexico

Oceana Divers Explore Life Under Gulf Oil Rig

In today’s update from the boat, expedition leader Xavier Pastor discusses the preparations for the next leg of the journey, and the divers’ exploration of the waters beneath one of the gulf’s myriad oil rigs.

It’s incredible to think about communities of marine life living in the shadows of oil rigs, isn’t it?

Have a burning question about our ongoing expedition in the gulf? Ask it in the comments!

Here's Xavier:

Tuesday, 9/7/10

The Latitude is like an anthill. There’s a crane working on deck to remove some of the materials that were used in the last stage of the expedition: anchors, compressors, chains, ropes, buoys...

Part of the Oceana crew is also packing their bags in order to make room for the new members of the expedition who are slowly making their way to the boat.

The frenetic activity on-board is slowed only by the heat. It’s so hot, and the humidity is so high, that even the boat’s operators have to stop and drink water to avoid dehydration.


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Mapping the Oil Plume

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.


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Expedition Wildlife Spotting, Part 2

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:



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About Our Vessel, The Latitude

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:


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Oil Spill Quote of the Day

From Reuters UK today:

The oil spill poses a large threat to the Kemp's Ridley population which makes its home in the Gulf.

"This is a major blow to that population," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the California-based Turtle Restoration Project, said. "Here you have a situation where the adults, hatchlings and juveniles are all in the Gulf."


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Oil Spill Quote of the Day

From CNN.com today:

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill may have settled to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico further east than previously suspected and at levels toxic to marine life, researchers reported Monday.

Initial findings from a new survey of the Gulf conclude that dispersants may have sent the oil to the ocean floor, where it has turned up at the bottom of an undersea canyon within 40 miles of the Florida Panhandle. Plankton and other organisms showed a "strong toxic response" to the crude, according to researchers from the University of South Florida.

"The dispersant is moving the oil down out of the surface and into the deeper waters, where it can affect phytoplankton and other marine life," said John Paul, a marine microbiologist at USF.


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Day 2: ‘Diving in Milk’

Your daily expedition update from Oceana senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor:

The Oceana crew set off for their first dive operation at the Western Dry Rocks off the coast of Key West yesterday morning.

The diving conditions at this first location were far from ideal. Recent storms stirred up the water with sand and mud, leaving the divers with limited visibility of only three to nine feet. Support diver Soledad Esnaola described it as “like diving in milk.”  The site was approximately 50 feet deep and a majority of the coral was covered in sediment. Despite the poor conditions, underwater videographer Enrique Talledo spotted a six-foot green moray eel.

The second dive took place at the Western Sambo Reef, which offered much better visibility of approximately 25 feet. After diving in many different environments all around the world, Oceana’s divers found the reefs to be mostly dead or dying, with little biodiversity, very few fish and no invertebrate life. It was far from what they expected to see on a Caribbean reef. They did catch sight of a 10-inch yellow stingray, a three-foot wide brain coral boulder, grey angel fish, yellowtail snapper, small sea fans and wrasse, small cigar shaped fish.


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New Report: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles

Imagine a healthy, beautiful ocean. Now remove the sea turtles, one by one.

Not so healthy anymore, is it?

That’s the gist of the report we released today, Why Healthy Oceans Need Sea Turtles: The Importance of Sea Turtles to Marine Ecosystems. The report describes the vital roles sea turtles play in the ecosystem, and how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is further threatening their ability to fulfill those roles.

As the report outlines, sea turtles provide the following important ecosystem services:

  • Maintain healthy seagrass beds through grazing
  • Maintain healthy coral reefs by removing sponges when foraging
  • Facilitate nutrient cycling by supplying a concentrated source of high-protein nutrients when nesting
  • Balance marine food webs by maintaining jellyfish populations
  • Provide a food source for fish by carrying around barnacles, algae and other similar organisms
  • Increase the rate of nutrient recycling on the ocean floor by breaking up shells while foraging
  • Provide habitat for small marine organisms as well as offer an oasis for fish and seabirds in the open ocean

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Where’s Waldo? In the Gulf!

© Naples Daily News

Today Oceana and NRDC, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, are launching an oil-detecting underwater robot off the Florida Keys as a first line of defense against underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil spill.

For 25 to 30 days, the robot, a.k.a.Waldo, will travel undersea in the water column, an area that satellite imagery cannot access, gathering data every few seconds and transmitting the information to researchers via satellite every three hours.

If oil is detected, Mote Marine Laboratory will provide the local government with this information so that emergency resources and response plans can be activated to help protect the Keys’ important ecological resources.

You can check out Waldo’s location and data throughout his expedition at Rutgers University’s web site.  


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Oil Spill Quote of the Day

From NBC yesterday:

"My first impression is the vastness of the problem," [Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie] Mughelli said [during a recent trip to the Gulf with other professional and Olympic athletes]. "It doesn't look small on TV by any means, but it seems like you can contain it ... and that's not the case at all. Especially when you come out here and look at it and see the oil on the Gulf and see the marsh being eroded and see the birds with black underbellies, you realize it's a lot worse than you think it is."


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