We began flying the Gulf again in mid-March 2011. We had not seen the Gulf from the air since September 2010. We hoped to find evidence of rebirth, recovery, restoration. We were shocked when, on our very first flight, we found miles on miles on miles of brownish-red water, around the southern Chandeleur Islands and Breton Island, and for tens of miles parallel to the coastline south of Grand Isle, west to east. In late March, boat crews had collected samples of some of the stuff near Breton Island and pronounced it a match to MC252 -- the Macondo well, site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster almost a year prior.
We flew flights looking for dolphins, dead and alive. We saw surface oil on every flight through all of 12011, right up to December 30. We found whale sharks and enabled the most successful season of tagging by scientists ever. We found sperm whales, beautiful families of them, out in blue water west of the Macondo area. We studied coastal restoration along Louisiana beaches and wetlands, and we studied the general health of beaches as far east as Destin, Florida and to the western reaches of Louisiana.
There is a considerable amount of photo and video documentation of the Gulf here for 2011. We think there has not been enough complementary collection of samples by boat and subsequent analysis, which are needed in order to understand the sources and future of all the surface oil we continue to see, in the deeper water (more than 45 miles from coastlines) as well as the platform-ridden green water within 25 miles of the coastlines.
When will we understand what really happened on the seabed in early 2010 when BP was doing its ill-fated drilling? When will we understand what killed all of the dolphins and sea turtles and other marine life? These are questions that pain us every time we fly over the Gulf, every time we think about the Gulf. While our colleagues deal agonizingly with the tragic effects on humans of having had to touch and breathe crude oil from 13,000 below the sea floor as well as the toxic dispersant Corexit in its various formulae, we are not yet seeing sufficient action to understand, ameliorate, and prevent future tragic effects on marine life of drilling in deep water for oil and using toxic dispersants to deal with the inevitable leaks and "spills."
Twenty months after what was to date the worst environmental disaster we've faced, new deepwater oil drilling permits have been issued, the drilling is ongoing. And there is oil continuing to show up all over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Hello? Is this really okay with all of you?
2011 Sep 04
On Wings Of Care volunteers are still here in the Gulf and still working for the truth to be told and shown to you, the public. Because ONLY YOU can ensure that federal, state, and local authorities act according to the wisest long-term interests of the Gulf -- the ocean, the coasts and wetlands, and you, its residents. ONLY YOU can ensure that funds from the government and corporations are used wisely and for long-term good.
On Wings Of Care is ready to make more surveillance flights over the Gulf, especially over the areas where we recently showed you (and apparently also BP and the US Coast Guard) where large amounts of fresh oil are continuing to contaminate waters south of Louisiana and Mississippi, both near shore and out to more than 100 miles off shore. Your 'clear blue waters' are far from clear or blue anymore. The 'solution to pollution' is quite evidently NOT 'dilution' (or dispersion), contrary to cute corporate jingles...
2011 August 30
Gulf of Mexico
We flew today to find whale sharks, so that scientists who were out there in a boat could fit them with tags that would report their gps positions and ultimately tell us more about them. The seas were utterly calm, like glass. The bait balls were glistening everywhere as we flew to open seas south of Grand Isle about 100 miles. We were so optimistic! Alas, in over six hours of flying covering almost 600 miles, not a one was found today. Nor a single sperm whale. We found two huge pods of bottlenose dolphin, one with over 100 individuals, another with at least 75. And a couple of fine leatherback sea turtles. But between those sightings -- and sometimes uncomfortably close to them, all we found was what we are so very tired of seeing -- more and more OIL.
In fact, we found so much oil out in the Macondo Prospect (near the site of the April 2010 explosion), that we have an 11-minute video of it that never covers the same area twice! Not since last summer have we seen this kind of expansive surface sheen. Metallic-gray and rainbow swirls stretched for miles, mixed with dark-brown stuff that resembled weathered crude more than sargassum weed. And there were those round-shaped 'globs' of oil again, here, there, and everywhere it seemed. We did not want to see this stuff anymore!
NOTE: Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.
Today we flew about 500 miles over the Gulf to check out yet more reports of oil. We didn't even get to some of the places reported, because in just a few hours we had already found plenty in at least four distinct locations -- all within 75 miles of the shores of Louisiana!
Our plan for today was to check out three areas:
1. Breton Island, where last May we documented many subsurface dark reddish brown plumes surrounding the island rookery and spanning many miles north and south (see stories here).
2 The site of the defunct Ocean Saratoga platform owned by Taylor Energy, whose leak and extensive surface oil slick we documented this past July (see story here).
3. The site of the Deepwater Horizon (DH) explosion in April 2010, where fresh oil has been reported to be present still.
We've included a few photos in the descriptions of each significant sighting below; see the galleries below the article for many more photos and videos taken today by our friends from Gulf Restoration Network (GRN; Jonathan Henderson and Tarik Zawia). The GRN blog and link to photos can be found here.
A multi-objective flight finds another long oil slick south of Venice, LA; no aggregation of whale sharks at Ewing Bank (yet?); and a promising example at West Bay of rebuilding wetlands by diverting sediment from the Mississippi River
2011 Jul 01 Friday
We joined with the Gulf Restoration Network (Jonathan Henderson and Scott Eustis) today to have several pairs of eyes and cameras available for a multi-purpose flight. We went first to Ewing Bank, location of the whale shark we found a few weeks ago that scientists tagged with a GPS transmitter and named "Bessie" (after our airplane). She has been hanging out there surface-feeding since the day we found her, but we were stymied in attempts to run out there to see if she had been joined by friends (to match the aggregation of nearly 200 that was present there one year ago), first by bad weather and then by scheduling problems. Today dawned clear and calm, and we just had to run out there and take a look We couldn't spend long, though, as our flight had other purposes. We did not find Bessie the whale shark, though the water was brilliant blue and calm and we could have seen her eyelashes if she had been there (and had any). Two hours later when we were near enough to shore again for our cell phones to kick in, we found an email from scientist Eric Hoffmayer confirming that Bessie had been feeding at the surface again this morning just before we had arrived, and within a couple of miles of our track. Ouch. That was disappointing!
Enroute to Ewing Bank from New Orleans, which takes us directly over Timbalier Bay and lovely Timbalier Island, we saw sea turtles and hammerhead sharks long before we reached the green-to-blue water line out at about 28° latitude. No dolphins, however, which has been no end of puzzle this year. We've seen lots of dolphins in the waters nearer to shores, but almost none, certainly not large pods like we saw last summer, out in the blue water areas between Ewing Bank and the Steps, which is about a 150-nm east-west spread from southwest of New Orleans to south of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and which covers the area most affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 April...
UPDATE 2011 Jun 21 Tuesday:
Eric Hoffmayer just sent the following note to Bonny, telling us that the whale shark we found and tagged is still in the area!
" Just heard from our shark. By the way, we named her Bessie after your plane. The tag reported at 8:35 am from 28 04.667N, 91 00.333W on top of the southern boundary of the bank. i will give you updates as I get them."
Did they survive last year's devastating oil spill and use of dispersants? Would they return?
The big questions! T
NOTE: Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.hese giant harmless filter-feeders no doubt took some seriously bad gulps of crude and dispersants while they were here in the Gulf from last June through last September (and maybe longer -- that's just when we were finding and tagging them). Would they be here again this year? And in the usual large numbers? Last year during the full moon in June, scientists Eric Hoffmayer and Sylvia Earle awoke on their boat out on Ewing Bank, 75 miles off the shore of Grand Isle, Louisiana to see hundreds of whale sharks surrounding them! And throughout the rest of the summer, with the help of On Wings Of Care's eye in the sky, he and his colleagues continued to find about 25 more, although they never again appeared in large aggregations. This year, Eric went out to the Ewing Bank area again, and On Wings Of Care flew over the area for six hours at a time every day for four straight days, all of us looking together for these gentle giants over a search grid on the order of 1000 square miles.
2011 May 14 Saturday
Brownish-red subsurface plumes remain, and there is a 10-square-mile sheen around the defunct Ocean Saratoga platform.
Since showing you seven weeks ago the dramatically disturbing sights of brownish-red subsurface plumes and streamers spanning many tens of miles southwestward along the western shores of the Chandeleurs and Breton island (March 22) and a 10-mile wide, 30-mile long east-west stretch south of Grand Isle (March 23), we have revisited these areas three times -- April 21, April 23, and May 14. Although these subsequent flyovers have been brief and without our previous video and camera crews, they have been sufficient to show that:
1) the strange brownish-red plumes are still present in some areas west and southwest of the Chandeleurs, but they appear much less dense; and
2) surface sheen extends for at least 10 square nautical miles around the defunct Ocean Saratoga rig, located approximately 12 nm south of the southern tip of Louisiana (South Pass).
2011 May 06 Friday
We flew to Bay Jimmy in Barataria Bay today to study some marsh 'oil cleanup' operations we had been told were underway there. We found boats just off shore using huge shovels on long-armed cranes, digging into the marsh shoreline and pulling out large quantities of oiled marsh grass, then placing these into large receptacles that were collected onto much larger 'trash depot' boats nearby. It was discomfiting to see such large quantities of vegetation being removed from precious wetlands already experiencing extreme rates of loss due to erosion and insufficient sediment/freshwater mixture to maintain the vegetation needed to keep these marshes from sinking altogether!
NOTE: Unless noted, no photos or video provided by On Wings Of Care are "photoshopped" or otherwise altered in any way that could degrade accurate interpretation of what we observed.
2011 April 21 Thursday (posted 2011 May 05)
Four weeks since we first returned to the Gulf in March 2011, where on our first day of flying we had found vast expanses of subsurface plumes and streamers and some surface sheen extending along the west shores of the Chandeleurs Islands, dramatically surrounding a very active rookery on Breton Island, and extending from the shores of Grand Isle, LA southward at least 10 miles and southwestward almost 30 miles. (See articles from March 22 and 23.) We wondered what we would see today.
The weather during the preceding week had been windy, and the sea was choppy and murky. We knew we wouldn't see many animals, but choppy water doesn't hide the kinds of huge quantitites of crude and crude-dispersant that we documented all last summer and saw again in March of this year. We were on a tight time constraint for this flight, just 90 minutes. So I headed directly to the gps points I had marked previously in late March as looking the worst.
The shores of the Chandeleurs looked very dirty, with trucks and evidence of dredging work all along that once-pristine and rarely-visited chain of islands and wildlife sanctuary. But when we reached the southern Chandeleurs and Breton Island, we were upset to see remains of those expansive subsurface sheets of deep red.
Not wanting to create a lot of frustration and anger without having good knowledge of what the stuff we found in March was, we didn't publish this report right away. But now, May 5, we are publishing our photos, for now we have results of laboratory analyses of the waters near Breton Island sampled in late March. Samples from those subsurface sheets of deep red oily stuff all around Breton Island and along the Chandeleurswere positively identified as BP MC252 (Deepwater Horizon) oil, still showing highly toxic concentrations of polyaromatic nuclear hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The adult seabirds setting up their nests on this popular rookery have been eating highly contaminated fish here for quite a while, and now they are setting up their nests to raise their young in this toxic environment.
This day was not great for photography. Clouds were thick and low and there was much moisture in the air. At times like this, a polarizing lens would help in showing others what we were able to see; but OWOC in general does not use such enhancers, and anyway our passengers today didn't have any with them either. But look closely at these photos, and you'll see the lines -- the lines of deep red, the lines of foam, tragically not the natural lines of rip tides and convergence zones and sandbars. We also spotted a dead dolphin on the east shore of Breton Island. The photo did not come out well, but flying low and slow over it left us certain of what we saw. Who knows how many others there are that have not yet washed up or been seen, and whether we will ultimately be able to understand and prove what caused the many 'unusual mortality events' of dolphins and seaturtles in these waters since last spring.
In these photos you'll also a see a shrimp boat with his nets down, not two miles northeast of the island! We wondered if he knew what lurked in the waters so close to him.
Today we inspected very, very carefully all shore lines from Biloxi Bay in MS eastward to Grand Bay in Alabama. Early into the flight, I spotted what I thought was a dead or ill bird, but on circling and looking again, those 'wings' looked like small flippers, and the three of us thought perhaps we had found our first dead neonatal dolphin of the day, floating in shallow water about 20 feet from shore.
Gulf of Mexico Overflight 2011 March 23 Wednesday
Today we returned to the Chandeleur Islands and then to the vast area of surface sheen and subsurface plumes south of Grand Isle and Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The area southwest of the Chandeleurs was particularly disturbing because in one place the dark red subsurface sheets and plumes completely surround an island rookery that is very densely populated with pelicans. (See photos posted from yesterday's flight, together with the log there that gives gps coordinates for what we were seeing.) The area affected south of Grand Isle is huge, conveyed best by video, of which a few are posted below. These are sights I hoped never to see again after last summer. But we have started to wonder -- has this not been seen before only because others don't fly far and wide?
The winds were high again today, the water choppy, and there was considerable haze. As was the case yesterday, conditions were not great for shooting photos or video. The video of the Chandeleurs will be available in a day or so. Posted below are a few videos from today of the area south of Grand Isle and Port Fourchon. These videos were taken about 10 miles off shore. The plumes stretched for over 50 miles (we did not track them farther southwest than that, since we had already spent several hours at the Chandeleurs and were running close to our time limit).
Gulf Of Mexico Overflight 2011 March 22 Tuesday
Today we made two separate flights. On both flights we explored the Chandeleur Islands and south, and on the second flight we explored a large area from Grand Isle to 35 miles off shore, for about a 50-mile stretch from south of Grand Isle, LA westward to south of Isles Dernieres. Sad to say, we found extensive surface sheen in the latter area, along with much of the subsurface brownish-red plumes similar to what we saw the previous day near the Chandeleurs. (See video of the Grand Isle and southwestward areas taken the next day, Mar 23.) Today, we took many photos of the similarly strange-looking subsurface plumes and sreamers west and south of the Chandeleur Islands. The latter extended approximately 20 nm (nautical miles) NE-SW and was about 10 nm wide).
More photos are shown below, and we have many more that we haven't yet uploaded. We hope to have results of laboratory analyses of water samples from this area in the coming weeks. We spoke with the USCG about this and hope that the public will also hear explanation from them ... but suggest we not hold our breath for that, folks. Until we can say more definitively, we'll postpone writing a summary and instead include below for you the actual notes I wrote on my blackberry phone during both of these flights, which will give you some of the most critical location details (lat/longs in decimal degrees). The very fine photos were provided by James Scott and Robert Kerian from California, who came out here to help document the state of the Gulf at this time and who helped cover the aircraft operating expenses for these flights. Thank you, James and Robert!
Gulf of Mexico Overflight 2011 Mar 21 Monday
Today we headed directly for Grand Terre Island to determine the status of the deep red sub-surface plumes and streamers that we saw hanging within a quarter-mile of the beaches there and westward to Elmers Island last Friday and Saturday (March 18&19).
The day began by seeing nothing remarkable. But that didn't last for long.