2014 August 06 & 07, Wednesday & Thursday
Gulf of Mexico, offshore from the Florida Panhandle

The Gulf of Mexico waters south of Destin, Florida are very different from the waters south of Mississippi and Louisiana. Along the Florida panhandle, the beaches are covered with white sand and the water is often a clear emerald green out to a few miles off shore.  Even when the surf is up and seas are two to three feet, you can still see into the water from above, so flights are almost always rewarded with sights of dolphins, sharks, turtles, rays, and small fish balls.

We hadn’t been able to fly those waters in over a year, so when we were asked if we could provide some aerial spotting support for a seaturtle research mission, we moved mountains and worked long extra hours whenever we could in order to afford these flights.  The weather wasn’t ideal, but the tagging boat’s schedule wasn’t very flexible, and with rough seas they were unlikely to be able to find many turtles without “a look from above.”   So we chose the two days that looked best for weather and made the commute from New Orleans.

Aerial spotting for sea turtles differs from spotting for larger marine animals like whales, dolphins, or whale sharks. Turtles seem to be very sensitive to unusual disturbances around them. If we fly too low or cast a shadow in front of them, they dive. So for aerial turtle spotting, we try to keep our engines quiet and our altitudes constant and not too low, and then seek a compromise between the photographic ideal of having the sun behind us and the inconvenience of our plane casting a shadow that might make the turtle dive.  In  close to ten hours total of spotting over these two days, we found about seven leatherback turtles and about 15 loggerheads. But each time the tag team approached them by boat, the turtles dove. The boat tried for another couple of days after we had to leave, but weather was deteriorating and with rough seas, it was too difficult to find turtles just from a surface vessel.

Despite the rough seas and hazy skies with thunderstorms all around, we did get some nice photos to share with you — of turtles, dolphins, hammerhead sharks, and more. We’ll spare you the many photos of plastic trash that always seems to collect in lines of sargassum. We’ll share just a few photos of thick rainbow surface oil sheen, which is a common sight in waters offshore from Louisiana but which was a suprise to see within 5 miles of the beautiful beaches of Destin, Florida.   

We have lots of interesting photos of the shallower waters, coastlines, barrier islands, and our inland commute between Ocean Springs, MS and Destin, FL.  On August 06, when we left Ocean Springs shortly after sunrise, the runway was occupied by two sandhill cranes! We were happy to wait and enjoy watching them until they were safely clear of the runway.  Photos and videos of how turtle tagging is accomplished at sea will have to wait for another venture in better weather.

Here are a few of our favorites, followed by many more in the galleries below, and at the bottom of this article there is a detailed flight log of our sightings and their locations.






Many thanks goes to our wonderful On Wings Of Care volunteers and seasoned Gulf Coast residents and marine life spotters Terese P. Collins of Biloxi, MS and Don Abrams of Ocean Springs, MS. We also thank the University of Southern Mississippi for helping out with some fuel costs, and the owners of Flightline First at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, whose generous donations toward aircraft fuel have helped On Wings Of Care continue to be able to provide aerial monitoring to the residents and wildlife of the Gulf Coast.  On Wings Of Care is an all-volunteer organization, and we all work “day jobs” in order to be able to provide these services to benefit the wildlife and the extraordinary ecosystems associated with the Gulf Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

Here are some more of our favorite photos over the waters south of Destin, with a Google Earth map showing our flights on August 06 (green) and August 07 (magenta):




















Here are some photos of our commute between Ocean Springs, MS and Destin, FL on both days, with one commute taking us over the barrier islands and the other over an inland route.















Finally, here are our flight logs for these days’ flights.

***** On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20140806 & 0807 - Wednesday & Thursday *****?
Sea Turtle Spotting/Tagging Mission

Note: Flight Route is Green for 0806,  Magenta for 0807 on Map

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 typically given in degrees and decimal minutes (except in the table below, where they are in decimal degrees)
Pilot & Aircraft:  Bonny L. Schumaker, Ph.D. (ATP, CFI-AIM), N4823V (“Gus”)
Spotters/Crew: Terese P. Collins, Don Abrams
Seas and weather:  Seas 1-2 ft, winds 5-10 kts from the west
Sky & Visibility: Hazy, 5-10-mile visibility, thunderstorms and haze/fog to the east and west
Flight time (spotting in target areas): 20140806: 6.2 hrs.  20140807: 3.5 hrs
Flight route: KDTS, southwest to southeast. (Commuted from Ocean Springs 5R2 both days)
Actual Flights (spotting only):  20140806: 481 nm within an area of 28.4 sq nm;  20140807: 566 nm within an area of 35.2 sq nm.
Maps of our route showing the following waypoints identified during our flight, plus some relevant waypoints from previous flights, are in today’s article (including a link to our GPS track file).

 


Waypoints and Sightings:

20140806 Wednesday:

WPT

LAT

LON

TIME

DESCRIPTION

1121

30.255

-86.555

2014-08-06T14:42:52Z

LEATHERBACKTurtle!

1122

30.330

-86.532

2014-08-06T14:54:46Z

Loggerhead Turtle

1123

30.247

-86.557

2014-08-06T15:12:51Z

Loggerhead Turtle

1124

30.238

-86.574

2014-08-06T15:41:26Z

LEATHERBACKTurtle

1125

30.234

-86.560

2014-08-06T15:53:03Z

Loggerhead

1126

30.233

-86.587

2014-08-06T15:57:52Z

LEATHERBACK

1127

30.218

-86.577

2014-08-06T16:08:09Z

Loggerhead, trash, sargassum line

1128

30.220

-86.670

2014-08-06T16:29:49Z

1129

30.219

-86.661

2014-08-06T16:30:49Z

Weird red stuff in water?

1130

30.222

-86.659

2014-08-06T16:32:27Z

Buoy

1131

30.214

-86.651

2014-08-06T16:37:54Z

4 Dolphin; weird underwater stuff?

1132

30.222

-86.631

2014-08-06T16:39:50Z

LEATHERBACK

(Not marked)

1645—1735Z

1145 CDT-Loggerhead; 1149-Loggerhead; 1151-Loggerhead; 1155-LEATHERBACK; 1159-Loggerhead; 1204-Loggerhead & NOAA Boat; 1214-Loggerhead.

1133

30.212

-86.576

2014-08-06T17:26:17Z

Commercial fishing boat

1134

30.205

-86.572

2014-08-06T17:32:36Z

Weird white trash in water

1135

30.204

-86.583

2014-08-06T17:54:08Z

Loggerhead, and NOAA Boat

1136

30.186

-86.571

2014-08-06T18:01:15Z

Loggerhead (?) & Dolphin

(Not marked)

1801—1820Z

1306 CDT - LEATHERBACK; 1306-Loggerhead (diving); 1312 CDT - Loggerhead; 1318- LEATHERBACK.

1137

30.207

-86.579

2014-08-06T18:28:02Z

Loggerhead

(Not marked)

1834 — 1857Z

1334CDT - Loggheread; 1357-LEATHERBACK.

20140806

30.096

-86.665

2014-08-06T14:02:57Z

Target point per NOAA Boat, said they saw a turtle there on Aug 05.

1138

30.251

-89.232

2014-08-06T23:10:01Z

Two rainbow sheen circles, near two shrimping boats. (iPhone photos).



20140807 Thursday:

WPT

LAT

LON

TIME

DESCRIPTION

(Not marked)

1507—1525Z

1007CDT-Turtle diving; 1012-Dolphins; 1021-Hammerhead shark.

1139

30.114

-86.655

2014-08-07T15:29:38Z

Loggerhead, with boat

(Not marked)

1534-1649Z

1034CDT-Dolphins; 1044-Loggerhead; 1049-Yacht; 1102-Turtle diving; 1111-Loggerhread

1140

30.218

-86.469

2014-08-07T16:55:32Z

Loggerhead; Blue/Green Line

1141

30.220

-86.634

2014-08-07T17:06:42Z

Surface sheen, rainbow. N-S ~50 meters, E-W ~100 meters.

1142

30.288

-86.580

2014-08-07T17:13:52Z

Surface sheen, 5 spots, rainbow; 1216CDT-Loggerhead.

1143

30.227

-86.563

2014-08-07T17:27:46Z

Loggerhead

1144

30.229

-86.564

2014-08-07T17:28:27Z

Sargassum, NOAA Boat.

(Not marked)

1806Z

Weird red stuff in water