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Gulf of Mexico 2010 July

(We have not yet uploaded all of these articles or photos and videos.  Our apologies, we hope to have this completed by mid-April 2011!  Here is just one of several articles, this one a partial description of our second week in the Gulf during July.

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This was one very busy week of flying all over the Gulf!  We saw more oil, more wildlife, more coastal damage, more skimmers at work, during this week than in most previous weeks combined.

Early in the week we flew scientists whose research and passions revolve around those precious ancient souls that so many cultures, and we, have come to revere -- the sea turtles.  (See www.seaturtles.org.)

 

We flew some young, extremely talented and dedicated documentary producers whose equipment and skills dwarfed those we've seen from some other professionals we've flown, and their desire to get the facts and share them with the public left us with huge hope for what good will come from the media in coming decades. (See RedBridgeProductions.org) We flew many scientists, geophysicists, marine biologists, chemists, etc. from the USGS, from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and from NASA, who were keen to find areas of specific types of oil -- the heavy sheen, the older crude emulsion, etc.  Spotting these from the air a few hours before their boats could get to them to sample them, saved them a lot of time and increased the chances of their success enormously.

NASA was there flying their AVIRIS imaging spectrometer at 12,000-16,000 feet, over specific grid patterns that were decided hours before the flights, based on weather (they use reflected light so need clear skies) and based on where our flights determined that the greatest concentrations of various kinds of oil were, and where along the coastal ecosystems the oil damage seemed most significant. Several other agencies and research institutions were making measurements simultaneously with the AVIRIS flights, both from other aircraft platforms and from boats.  Our spotting flights helped in coordinating where everyone needed to be when, and telling them what they would find and where on a particular morning or afternoon. 

Always on the way back from these oil-spotting flights that went far off shore (well over 100 miles), we surveyed the offshore islands and coastal areas for wildlife, for signs of oil damage to vegetation, for the status of booms, etc.
When Hurricane Alex came through, now a couple of weeks ago, it left in disarray and disrepair most of the oil booms that previously had been laid neatly around most of the coast line and off-shore islands.  We have seen little or no repair or replacement to those since then.   From the air, these booms now look like little more than litter in the water, ubiquitous and random, oil sheen both inside and outside the booms.  There are tarballs up and down the shores and hundreds of meteres off shore, and brown, dead vegetation around the edges and tidelines of most of the marshes and low-lying coastland.

In the shallower waters within about 40 miles of the shores from Pensacola, FL west to Caillou Bay and Marsh Island, we saw dolphins swimming in oil-filled waters; we saw many pods (is that the right word?) of what we thought were manta rays, groups of 20-30 and more, swimming very close to the surface.  Often near those pods we saw sharks.  We saw many 'baitballs' -- shiny active groups of fish.  But all of this was in the shallower waters to the north of 'the source' (Deepwater Horizon); rarely did we see wildlife out near the source or beyond, out to 140 miles, or up to 20 miles southwest to southeast of the source.  That's not to say they're not there, but it's tempting to believe that those out that far were able to swim away from the oil to more open water, whereas those trapped in the shallower waters between the source and the coastlines have remained there, and are now literally struggling for air and food in relatively tight quarters.  We also heard of large groups of dead fish showing up on coastal shores, the most recent one being red fish on the east bank of the Mississippi near Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish, north of Venice and Boothville.   We did not succeed in photographing that from the air, but unfortunately, it seems certain that we'll get more chances to witness that sad phenomenon.

We can also share with you some footage taken by our colleagues and by those we flew when they took subsequent trips in boats.  Some of those boats have been donated by locals who want to support our and other NGO's efforts to help the Gulf wildlife, ecosystems, and economy.   They wish to remain anonymous, but someday we'll have to give them the open praise they deserve, for these generous people have given in every way we could think of to ask, and then some.  You'll see photos taken from boats with scientists in full hazWOPER gear taking samples of the oil to analyze back in their laboratories, and from boats with conservationists and marine biologists there to assess the status of coastal marine life and vegetation.  I'm sorry to say that you'll see oil-covered crabs struggling to crawl along beaches too remote to have been cleaned like the public beaches of Grand Isle and the like.  And you'll see young pelicans playing in the oil-filled water and tar-covered beaches of Queen Bess island, a famous pelican rookery.

We'll let the photos and videos speak further for themselves.

We've come back home to southern California for a short time, to earn a few dollars in order to keep going, and to be with our own family and critters again.  But we'll be back to the Gulf, perhaps as early as next week, for there are many more people wanting to see for themselves and set about doing what they can do to help.   The time is soon coming when there will be a vast, coordinated surge of trained, experienced help from the public sector.  Despite all the anger and blame for this whole tragedy having occurred, valuable lessons are being learned that won't be forgotten.  Lessons about how to drill for oil more safely, about how to live with less dependence on oil, about how to treasure our natural resources rather than exploit and deplete them, about how we all can and must take responsibility for protecting them, about how government and big business can and must work with and be helped by the public sector, by non-government organizations, by small businesses.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usDkiAQCMA4

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