‘On Wings of Care’ Barataria Bay Flyover ~

Bonny Schumaker, pilot & Director of ‘On Wings of Care‘ took to the skies again today heading for Bay Jimmy in Barataria Bay.  Accompanied by marsh ecologist, Bri Bernik, and filmmaker, Bess Carrick, they flew South from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans to investigate the reports of oil washing ashore in Barataria Bay. They fly over the area of Bay Jimmy where reports of a destructive marsh clean up operation are under way with cranes tearing away the marsh grass. The team found boats just offshore 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.  This aggressive digging is being done on a crescent shaped part of Bay Jimmy which is very fragile ecologically. It is feared that this digging “remediation” will cause this piece of the island to soon disappear adding it to the column of wetlands lost.

Bonny had wanted to confer with ecologists familiar with issues of marsh restoration, and our friend and videographer for the flight, Bess Carrick, referred us to an outstanding scientist: Ms. Brittany Bernik, a Ph.D candidate in molecular ecology at Tulane University who specializes in the study of marsh restoration. Brittany joined us for this flight, and a combination video-interview made by Bess during the flight is provided below.

To try to put Brittany’s excellent comments and several papers she shared with Bonny into a brief summary isn’t possible. but here are some of the main points discussed:

1.  Bay Jimmy remains one of the most heavily oiled marsh sights since the BP spill last year. Its condition was further exacerbated by the spewing of oil for over five days straight in late July 2010 when a tug boat accidentally rammed an abandoned oil well.  (For a video taken during On Wings Of Care‘s flyover of that on 2010 July 31, CLICK HERE )

2.  The approach we were witnessing is mechanical, or manual cleanup:  they rake and break up the oiled marsh material and then try to remove all of it.  Of course, in that process they remove a considerable amount of marsh substrate.  In the high-erosion environment of Louisiana’s marshes where wetlands are being lost at an alarming rate, unnecessary removal of vegetation and substrate is downright sacrilegious.

3. In addition to removing precious marshland, this kind of manual cleanup is also counterproductive to helping the marsh recover from the oil spill.  Here is what we understood from Brittany (paraphrased):  In these marshes, the plants are all connected with one another through their root systems; the plants are actually large colonies of effectively one organism that takes up a lot of marsh meadow.  So the energy of that entire system of plants is used to help regenerate the stressed areas along the fringes.  This is how some plants can continue to grow even in very contaminated soils, because they are being supported by the rest of the colony.  To remove the plants on the contaminated shoreline does worse than remove just those plants; it actually causes a loss and greater stress to the entire plant (colony), which will now have to devote much of it energies toward regenerating its fringes.

4.  The ‘cleanup’ going on along the sandy beaches and shoreline farther south suffers similar problems, except that sand is more easily replaced than is shoreline marsh material.

5.  Finally, aside from these cleanup approaches being deadly to the marsh itself, they are doomed from the start.  For every time we have a new storm, new oil will be pushed up from the ocean bottom.  The answer is not to continue to try to remove or otherwise hide from view the oil that will continue to wash on to our shores.  The answer is to focus on helping the recovery of the wetlands.

Edited by Deb Castellana

Read More at On Wings of Care

Grand Isle – Where Is Everybody?

It was my second visit out to Grand Isle in as many weeks. My expedition partner Samantha Whitcraft from Oceanic Defense has been engaged in on the water research and aerial surveys since her arrival in the Gulf, and wanted to round out her experience by seeing the gusher’s impact on the terrestrial environment as well. The Gulf Disaster has all but disappeared from the national news, and Unified Command continues to open more beaches and fishing grounds at the same time that they are laying off thousands of workers. Having spent three days flying over the Gulf, we are very much aware that this is not over, nor will it be for a very long time.

What we found this week was an abandoned beach. The BP camp at the end of Grand Isle was almost empty. Even the fences marking off the makeshift parking lots were gone. Last week it was crawling with workers, dune buggies, trucks, and there were Porta Potties everywhere. Now, I’d say 85% of that is gone. The locals told me that they’ve been promised that the military & cleanup workers will come back after the Tropical Depression passes. I don’t believe it. I think they’ll come back, but in smaller numbers. They could be using the storm to sneak out the back door. I expect no less of them.

I’m making a commitment to return to Grand Isle before I leave the Gulf just to see if Unified Command is going to stand by these people, or not.

Long Beach Marina ~ Precursor to the Fish Kills?

On August 1, 2010 I took a late afternoon walk on the jetty at the Long Beach Marina in Mississippi. Folks were fishing although the entire marina is still surrounded by booms. As I walked along, the putrid stench of death almost knocked me over. I looked down at the waterline and saw a very large fish lying dead on the rocks. The seagulls swooped down to take a look, but even the crabs wouldn’t touch the carcass. And yet, just a few yards away, people were fishing and casting their nets out into the water. As I watched the scene, I saw two more bodies of the same type of fish drifting towards the shore. Two nights later, a massive fish kill was reported just a few miles away in Biloxi.

Don’t believe what you hear, things are definitely not OK in the Gulf. This week, there have been fish kills reported in four states: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi & Louisiana. And that doesn’t take into account all the fish that die offshore and sink to the bottom. One thing is clear: the scope of this disaster is in its infancy. People here are frightened, angry and stunned. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if this were my home.