2012 April 06, Friday
New Orleans, Louisiana
It has been five weeks since we last flew over the Macondo area, scene of the worst oil pollution disaster in America just two years ago. There has been a lot of violent weather here in the meantime, especially recently. From a scientific perspective, it might have been better for us to have waited a few days before assessing things from the air, since it takes time and calm weather for oil seeping from the ocean floor 5000 feet below the surface to appear in a stable form that is easily seen from an airplane flying by at 100 miles per hour. But we decided to jump at our first available day of fairly calm seas, great visibility, and time that we all could take off from work.
With cautious optimism based on this possibly premature aerial assessment, we were pleased to see very few of the surface oil slicks we've seen on every previous flight for the past nearly two years! Yes, there are still isolated lines and bands of sheen out in the Macondo area. Yes, there are still some activities at platforms in that area that we wonder about, such as significant discharging into the water of unknown substances. Yes, the chronic oil polluting Taylor Energy site just off the southern tip of Louisiana is still causing a seriously ugly and large slick. And yes, there are many more slicks off the southeast shores of Louisiana, not far from the Taylor Energy site and in almost every direction you look. Some are associated with platforms and some not, some short narrow lines and some more extensive in nature. No one seeing this part of the Gulf from the air could ever deny that the oil and gas industries have literally littered this marine ecosystem with navigational hazards, and pollutants, and eyesores. But -- starting about 15-20 miles off shore, we found blue water, some of it no longer visibly tainted with oil. And that was a relief.
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.
And while we'd like to stick with the optimistic tone, we must add one very puzzling and concerning fact.On this entire flight of nearly four hours, the only wildlife we saw were a few pelicans. Not a dolphin, not a ray, not a shark, not a whale, not even a baitball. Nada. Nothing. And we were three pairs of experienced eyes locked on the water the entire time, looking for any sign of a fin, a shadow, a movement. Seas were 2-3 ft, lighting was excellent and skies were clear. We saw nothing. We need to do some investigating about this. We're hoping to learn of some reassuring explanation such as a change in the loop current that brought warm waters and prey and plankton to other areas, to which the marine life has gone.
Here are some videos from the flight and then a larger gallery of photos. Thanks to Terese Collins of the Gulf Islands Conservancy for flying with us on short notice; her photos make up all but about five of the photos here. Brayton Matthews supplied the high-definition video. If you would like high-resolution versions of any of these photos, just contact us and we'll be happy to email them to you. As always, our flight log is transcribed below (with references to specific photos of Terese's from the gallery below), and our GPS flight tracks can be downloaded here (or under the main menu item called "Flight Tracks").
First, two videos on the Taylor Energy site:
Next, some of the sargassum we saw. (Not exactly premier sargassum, but that's what is there, folks!)
Next, two videos of the strange-looking discharge and large nearby area of subsurface luminescent bubbles around the oil platform "Noble Amos Runner" and the nearby vessel "Joshua Chouest":
Here is one video of the first of the several oil slicks we found as we flew back to coastal Louisiana via Breton Sound:
And finally, two videos of the "BLAKE 1505" platform discharging large quantities of stuff, approximately due east of the southern tip of Louisiana:
On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20120406, Friday
Macondo area, Breton Sound
All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today's article at OnWingsOfCare.org.
Times are given in CDT.
Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes.
Aircraft: N4784E Bonny Schumaker with Terese Collins and Brayton Matthews as spotters and photographers.
(No Waypoint.) 1330 CDT. West of N29 32.0' W89 27.0'
Two small islands and many, many manmade objects and vessels! (Images 5243 and 5344)
0206. 1334 CDT. N29 31.761 W89 24.076
Platform and sheen, east to west, about 1/8 nm long and 50 m wide.
(Images 5245, 5246, 5248, 5249, 5250, 5251, 5252, 5253)
(No Waypoint.) Southeast of #0206 above about 1.5 nm -- another, longer line also emanating from a platform. (Images 5255-5259)
0207. 1341 CDT. N29 24.047 W89 17.480
Pair of islands, very dirty looking beaches. (Images 5260-5263)
0208. 1350 CDT. N29 12.042 W89 08.419
Rig and a tug, lots of black (mud?) being stirred up here. (Images 5264-5266)
0209. 1403 CDT. N28 56.357 W88 58.210
Taylor Energy slick. White buoy with line still there (documented previously). (Images 5269-5279)
0210. 1409 CDT. N28 52.919 W88 48.466
Old sargassum, patties and thin streamers. Lots more also east and southeast of here, extending 10-15 nm. (Images 5282-5285, 5287, 5290-92)
0211. 1428 CDT. N28 41.375 W88 09.799
Noble Amos Runner platform and Joshua Chouest vessel. The platform is discharging something out of a long thin flexible (?) pipe. But in the opposite direction, extending out for about a half-mile and especially strong in light color about 1/4-mile away from the platform is this area of light aqua color, as if there is high-pressure emission of something under the surface. (Images 5293, 5296-5328)
0212. 1442 CDT. N28 43.185 W88 19.748
Surface slick, light sheen, silvery color, running southwest to northeast, about 1/4 nm long. (Images 5328-5342)
0213. 1443 CDT. N28 42.580 W88 20.902
Surface slick similar to above (0212). (Images 5348-5365)
0214. 1504 CDT. N28 51.748 W88 10.740
Surface slick similar to above (0212). (Images 5366-5381)
0215. 1531 CDT. N29 09.795 W88 36.728
Platform ("BLAKE 1505") expelling stuff, as seen in 0211 above. (Images 5384-5416)
(No Waypoints) Breton Island (Images 5443-5445)
0216. 1600 CDT. N29 32.422 W89 15.089
Northeast of Breton island, a long sheen, about 3 miles long and ~50 m wide. (Images 5447-5457)
0217. 1604 CDT. N29 31.369 W89 20.008
A very long line of surface sheen, about 8 miles long and ~20 m wide, and northeast of the line are expansive "sheets" of brown color (like what we documented in March of 2011 in this area). (Images 5462-5485, 5493-5498)