Chandeleur Islands – 2011 April 21st

2011 April 21 Thursday (posted 2011 May 05)
Posted Courtesy of ‘On Wings of Care’

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 Chandeleur 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. 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.

 

John Quigley
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 Chandeleurs were 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.  And in the haste to fly within our short time window, we forgot to bring our polarizing lens. 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 sea turtles 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.
Special Thanks to
by Dr. Bonny Schumaker

Gulf of Mexico Beaches ~ One Year Later

April 18 – 28, 2011

One year after the Deepwater Horizon Disaster began, just a few days of walks on Gulf beaches from Grand Isle to Biloxi, Mississippi produce a haunting set of photographs showing just how deep the toll on marine life has been from the worst environmental disaster in American history. Walk with me and take a few minutes to think about the fate of the Gulf of Mexico. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

House of Blues Benefit ~ Anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

 

New Orleans, April 23, 2011

Harmony for Health Benefit

It was a rockin’ night in the French Quarter of New Orleans at the House of Blues & also at Tipitina’s – where celebs & regular folks mixed to raise funds & awareness on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Kevin Costner & Modern West rocked the house down with some great country rock and a host of others including toxicologist Dr. Susan Shaw & UC Santa Barbara’s Dr. Ira Leifer shed light on what they believe is still just the beginning of the Gulf’s problems from last year’s blowout.

Captain Paul Watson & Dr. Bonny Schumak
Bonny Schumaker from ‘On Wings of Care’ shared her insights on the ongoing situation in the Gulf. Last summer, Bonny & I landed for fuel at Galliano airport in the Mississippi Delta to wait out a nasty squall, and we were told by several state officials who were also waiting out the storm that they were currently managing 25 active spills – aside from the blowout at the Macondo well.  It seems like this is how it goes on in the Gulf, spill after spill, continuing the degradation of the fragile wetlands and the endangerment of people and animals that get in the way.
In March, Bonny came back to the Gulf, and when she took to the air, she saw what she never wanted to see again. This particular spill had been reported at 5 gallons. This video was taken near the Chandeleur Islands (check out the video here: March Gulf Spill.)  Does this look like five gallons to you?  Bonny’s love for the Gulf has only grown deeper and she took the stage to assure everyone that her commitment continues to be their ‘eyes in the sky’ the Gulf and it’s ecosystems from her beloved Cessna, “Bessie” in every way that she can.
Dr. Susan Shaw & friend Mandy
Captain Paul Watson sported his finest officer’s uniform to honor the Gulf on this first anniversary of the biggest environmental disaster in US history.  The crowd cheered as he painted a vivid picture all earthlings as crew on spaceship earth – an earth that we are damaging in dangerous and possibly permanent ways.  You could feel the passion behind his words ~ the same drive that brings him to the Southern Ocean and around the world to defend animals against human cruelty.

It was a delight to finally meet another true hero for the Gulf, Dr. Susan Shaw. By the time she took the stage later in the evening, folks at the House of Blues had become a bit loud and rowdy, but after just a few minutes of Susan’s heartfelt words, the crowd hushed to listen.  @font-face { font-family: “Cambria”;}@font-face { font-family: “Tahoma”;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }A marine toxicologist and executive director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, she has undertaken a long term study of the Gulf disaster, the Gulf Eco-tox project. As one of the very first people to actually dive into the oil and dispersant filled waters last summer, she knows first hand about the toxins that the Gulf residents have been exposed to. Dr. Shaw is committed to a long term presence in the Gulf, and  being an independent researcher, she has always been able to be truthful and outspoken about her findings.

Dr. Ira Leifer and Robin Young

The crowd cheered as she promised them that she would stand by them for the long haul, and to do everything in her power to ‘make things right’. As much as the people of the Gulf have been lied to,  it was clear that this lady from Maine is truly a force to be reckoned with and a hero who they can trust.

A couple of months back, I attended an Oil Spill Conference at Chevron World Headquarters in San Ramon, California. You can only imagine the level of lies and politics as top oil industry executives from most of the major oil companies took the stage to defend their oil spill management methods – from the use of Corexit to the ‘Burn Box’ man who actually took the podium and admitted that he is a closet pyromaniac. I was horrified, but not surprised.

But on the second day of the conference,  Dr. Ira Leifer took the podium and it was like a breath of fresh air. As NASA’s chief scientist in charge of remote sensing for the oil spill, this guy could be a pie-in-the-sky nerdy scientist living in a world of statistics & satellite images. But no.  Ira is a man with a heart of gold, and after running NASA’s program which included flying planes at 65,000 feet over the spill with incredibly high tech imagery equipment that revealed amazing amounts of information such as the location, direction, speed and composition of the slick, he is now doing case studies of people in the Gulf who have fallen ill as a result of being exposed to toxins.

FEMA trailer outside of the “House of Blues”

And when I asked him who was paying the bill, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and held it up.  He explained that if we wait for funding to come through for these studies, it will be too late, and we will never know the whole truth.  It’s already late to be getting started, he says, so he’s putting his heart and soul into this project now – when it matters most for the people of the Gulf. And how lucky they are to have this mindful genius on their side! Perhaps my favorite thing about Ira is his ability to communicate at a simple level. After explaining that although people’s symptoms are perhaps subsiding now in some cases, there will be a new wave of serious illnesses in four to five years, as people’s organs show even more serious effects of the toxic exposures.  And after this, he roused the crowd into joining him in a chant of ‘No more bull@&#*’!!!!” Wow.

And I must mention the big draw for the fundraiser – Kevin Costner & his Band, Modern West. He’s just a lowly Academy Award winning movie star, not a rocket scientist like some of the folks I’ve written about today, but he certainly cares a great deal about what’s happening to the people down here.  And they can certainly deliver that old good time music. Having spent considerable time in the Gulf over the years, the place & it’s people have obviously gotten under his skin.  Kevin and the band brought it home and kept the place jumping for hours.

So on days when it seems like nothing will ever be right again in the Gulf (or anywhere else), when we feel sick and tired of it all, it’s good to know that there are people like these who are working hard – and who will always be working hard to help. There ARE angels among us, and these are some of them.

On Wings of Care Investigates Possible New Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The U.S. Coast Guard is currently investigating reports of a potentially massive oil sheen about 20 miles away from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion last April.

Bonny Schumacher, from ‘On Wings of Care’, Jerry Moran and others are in the air and will report to us on the situation as it develops.

Sources have confirmed the approximate size of the slick and  that skimming operations have been under way for at least 24 hours now. The suspected source is the Matterhorn Mc243 facility only about 25 miles from where BP’s Macondo well spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf last year.

Photographs taken by “Native Orleanian Photography” and Jerry Moran.

The Big Fool Says to Push On

It was 1967 when Pete Seeger wrote the song, ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, but he couldn’t get it on the air due to censorship because of the Vietnam war. It took a year for the song to go public. Funny sometimes how things don’t change. The Big Fool still wants us to push on.

On August 23, we headed out with a collaborative team headed up by Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Captain Al Walker & Marine Biologist & Captain Scott Porter of Ecorigs. Our merry band included folks from Oceanic Defense, Sea Shepherd, Mission Blue, The National Wildlife Federation and All Eyes on the Gulf. What a mob!

Our mission was to head offshore to find bluewater, where we hoped to locate turtles and also to take samples of sargassum to see if there were any signs of hydrocarbons. But we found no bluewater and no sargassum. Our divers did spot one Kemps Ridley Turtle on the rig. We saw few bait balls, a few seabirds, and our guides, longtime fisherman Captain Al, and local marine biologist Scott Porter agreed that life out there was scarce.

Ten miles outside of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi, we approached Exxon Mobil’s Lena Oil rig. It has been producing since 1984 and sits in 1000 feet of water on the edge of the Mississippi Canyon. It’s no wonder that there is so much life growing on the rig. Notorious for ripping currents & big sharks, the Lena Rig promised to be an exciting dive.

As we approached, the roar and drone of the engines and generators was

almost deafening. It was an ominous, reverberating sound that felt like it vibrated every cell of my body. As a diver, I immediately thought of the poor fish gathered below, living with all of that amplified sound.

But the rigs do offer a safety of sorts – their latticework of metal below the water acts as an artificial reef where the fish can find shelter and food. Our two captains and dive leaders Al Walker and Scott Porter checked out the conditions. Visibility was low and the currents were moderate. Hoping for better visibility beneath the surface layer, they decided it was a go.

Fox News 8 from New Orleans was onboard, and they did a great piece the next night highlighting underwater footage shot by Al and Scott.

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OK, so for all of you who know me, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t she dive?” Well, my hat is off to the guys who did, but I’m just not sure about this toxic soup. I hope to return to dive out in the blue water on some of the rigs farther offshore, but as you’ll see from the map image, this rig is right in the thick of it, and so I decided to observe from the surface.

On the way back to shore, we took water samples to be sent off for independent testing. As you can see, we encountered some very nasty stuff. In the video, the material on the surface that looks like mucous is, we think dispersed oil, and was actually taken the day before. On August 23, we found only foamy bubbles with brown oil on the surface. Conditions change from day to day a great deal.

Our day ended with a beautiful ray of hope, as we came through the marshes on the way back to Cypress Cove Marina in Venice. We saw egrets, herons, and roseatte spoonbills in greater and greater numbers as we came inland. They seemed to be healthy, and we saw adults and juveniles. It was breathtaking, and actually healing after what we had seen offshore.

So yes, all this, and The Big Fool Says to Push On. What do you say? Shall we push back?