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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...

We then proceeded to the sight of an oil slick extending more than 15 miles east-to-west, documented by the MODIS satellite by the folks at skytruth.org (see their blog here).  We had been out to this site previously and documented some oil; a semi-submersible drill rig known as the Ocean Saratoga was formerly there, working to plug the leaking wells near this former site of a Taylor Energy platform (#23051) destroyed in 2004 by Hurrican Ivan, which is when some of the 26 wells underneath it began to leak.   It's located  11.6 miles east-southeast of the mouth of South Pass at the tip of the Delta.  There is nothing now to mark this site except a buoy -- and a pretty awful looking surface slick!  A video and selected photos are given below.  There was a large vessel there, just a mile or so east of the buoy that marks the start of the slick (presumably the source) at its west end.  It is called the "Ocean Intervention II."  It has a large crane and aft deck, as would be suitable for carrying a submersible.  Perhaps they are working on repairing the leak, or at least investigating it?  Photos of that ship are below, among the oil slick photos.  

On our way back, we came along the east side of the "crow's foot" past Venice, LA, toward West Bay, the site of what looks to have become a successful project to divert some of the sediment from the Mississippi River to the marshes.  It is clear that some new sandbars are forming, and there is fresh vegetation (lots of duckgrass was visible; for more details we refer to the GRN folks' descriptions).

Here are a few photos and a video of the oil slick.  A larger photo gallery is below, together with our detailed flight log with lat/long documentation for all that we noted.  Feel free to contact us if you'd like more information or higher-resolution photos or video.  Many thanks to Jonathan and Scott for doing a great job with the camera and videocam!  And to the folks at skytruth.org for watching the Gulf from space!

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.

Here are more photos, and below them the detailed flight log.

 

FLIGHT LOG:  20110701 Friday :  On Wings Of Care flight to Ewing Bank, site of the Ocean Saratoga/Taylor Energy oil slick, West Bay Diversion

BLS, Jonathan Henderson and Scott Eustis of the Gulf Restoration Network (healthygulf.org)

Departed KNEW 0700, returned 1100 CDT.

PERFECTLY calm water for the most parting, good lighting.  Altogether a "B+" day for wildlife sighting.  But we saw almost no wildlife.  Maybe 15 sea turtles and 20 hammerhead sharks en route to Ewing Bank, but no bottlenose dolphins, no whale sharks, and no animals east of Ewing Bank.

Specific sightings and notes:

1.  Enroute to Ewing Bank:

1a. Shrimpers (double-rigged): 29° 09.1' N, 090°33.33'

1b. Flaring by a platform:  29°04.4'N, 090° 37.1'W  (notify LA Bucket Brigade?)

1c. Shrimper 29°03.2'N, 090°38.4'W

1d. Sea turtle (Leatherback?- GRN guys didn't know, I didn't see) 28°5.7'N, 090° 43.9'W

1e. Lots of sargassum, nice wide line W-E 28° 40.25'N, 090°45.37'W

1f. Lots of bait balls!

1g. cownose rays (~4)

1h. Sea turtles:  ~5 ~28°42'N, 090°48.9'W.  Then another group of 3.

1i.  Small hammerhead shark 28°36.2'N, 090°54.7'W

1j. Some oil streamers and sheen, near sargassum, GPS #9032, 28°31.9''N, 090°55.9'W

1k.  SHrimpers - 8 of them, all double-rigged.  28°29.4'N, 090°55.88'W.

1l.  ~5 hammerhead sharks, 2 sea turtles: 28°26'N, 090°56'W

2.  Ewing Bank (top and within about 10 nm, see GPS tracks 20110701)

(Brief circling in this area to see if there are any aggregations of whale sharks.  Roughly around 28°N, 090°55'W)

2a. School of hammerheads, and ~3 sea turtles (leatherback)

2b. Line of blue-green and sargassum, west-to-east: 28°08.76'N, 090°54.07'W

NO whale sharks or dolphins spotted.  But this was a very cursory search, maybe 20 minutes.

LATER (when cell phone worked as we neared shore) I found an email from Eric Hoffmayer telling me that "Whale Shark Bessie" tag showed up at 0715 this morning less than 2 nm to the southwest from the southwest corner of our survey this morning.... aggh! (boo!)  Eric reported her position to be:  27°57.683'N, 091°11.600'W.

2c. REM POSEIDON vessel still on site here (noted on last trip about two week ago, a deep-sea-diving vessel, presumably doing recon for another platform??  See those notes and links, and other info from Jesse Fineran.)

3.  Enroute to Ocean Saratoga/Taylor Energy leak spotted by MODIS and repoted by skytruth.org Jun 28,29

(Headed now to gps#9033, approx 28°56'N, 088°58'W)

3a.Six large oil barges ~28°16'N, 090°33'W

3b. Shrimpers 28°6'N, 090°11.5'W

3c.  'Smoking' platform-- sand-blasting on its east side?  28°48.5'N, 089°17.3'W

3d. Start seeing light green streamers of foam - algae? This one N-S 28°49.8'N, 089°14.8'W.  Lots more of these as we headed E-NE.  Water very green at this point.

4.  Arriving (former) site of Ocean Saratoga - the oil slick:

Slick very obvious, runs W-E (tracking 105° magnetic), about 10 nm at least (we didn't track to its eastward end).  There is a buoy where the slick starts on the west end, gps #9035, 28°56.378'N, 088°58.049'W.  Very obvious sheen on surface, about 0.5-nm wide

5.  Enroute NW to the West Bay Diversion, just south of Venice and then back to KNEW

(West Bay Diversion:  where the MS river has been allowed in to the marsh in order to bring sediment).

5a.  GPS #9036:  29°12.5'N, 089°18.07'W.

GRN guys pointed out where sand bars are starting to develop.  The thing seems to be doing what was hoped.  Lots of duck grass (name?) and stuff in the area.

5b.  Wing-net shrimper (not a trawler):  29°32.186'N, 089°32.356'W.  (they use smaller nets, pull up every 30 minutes.  Not required to use TEDs.)

5c.  gps #9037, TOCA gas plant.  29°51.359'N, 089°51.56'W