We began flying the Gulf again in mid-March 2011. We had not seen the Gulf from the air since September 2010.  We hoped to find evidence of rebirth, recovery, restoration. We were shocked when, on our very first flight, we found miles on miles on miles of brownish-red water, around the southern Chandeleur Islands and Breton Island, and for tens of miles parallel to the coastline south of Grand Isle, west to east.  In late March, boat crews had collected samples of some of the stuff near Breton Island and pronounced it a match to MC252 -- the Macondo well, site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster almost a year prior.

We flew flights looking for dolphins, dead and alive.  We saw surface oil on every flight through all of 12011, right up to December 30.  We found whale sharks and enabled the most successful season of tagging by scientists ever.  We found sperm whales, beautiful families of them, out in blue water west of the Macondo area.  We studied coastal restoration along Louisiana beaches and wetlands, and we studied the general health of beaches as far east as Destin, Florida and to the western reaches of Louisiana.

There is a considerable amount of photo and video documentation of the Gulf here for 2011. We think there has not been enough complementary collection of samples by boat and subsequent analysis, which are needed in order to understand the sources and future of all the surface oil we continue to see, in the deeper water (more than 45 miles from coastlines) as well as the platform-ridden green water within 25 miles of the coastlines.  

When will we understand what really happened on the seabed in early 2010 when BP was doing its ill-fated drilling?  When will we understand what killed all of the dolphins and sea turtles and other marine life?  These are questions that pain us every time we fly over the Gulf, every time we think about the Gulf.  While our colleagues deal agonizingly with the tragic effects on humans of having had to touch and breathe crude oil from 13,000 below the sea floor as well as the toxic dispersant Corexit in its various formulae, we are not yet seeing sufficient action to understand, ameliorate, and prevent future tragic effects on marine life of drilling in deep water for oil and using toxic dispersants to deal with the inevitable leaks and "spills."  

Twenty months after what was to date the worst environmental disaster we've faced, new deepwater oil drilling permits have been issued, the drilling is ongoing.  And there is oil continuing to show up all over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  Hello?  Is this really okay with all of you?

2011 Dec 30 Friday
Gulf of Mexico


Late today we flew out over the Gulf to do some recon and give current coordinates to a boat crew headed out to collect some surface oil samples tomorrow. Too late to make it to the Macondo area, we focused on a site of chronic oil leakage near aTaylor Energy platform destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, about 12 miles south of the Louisiana Delta.  We quickly found a long line of surface oil, about 0.5-nm wide and 7 to 8 nm west-to-east.  The west end is marked by a small orange float and a larger white buoy with an ominous-looking cross on top.  Near the east end of the slick, where it widens some, there is a platform labeled "NKOR Energy."  Enroute there and back we saw two marsh fires and some very dirty beaches, but we also enjoyed the sights of the wetlands, more white pelicans, and a memorable sunset.

All of this and more is documented in our flight log provided below and in the photos and videos below.  The NRC incident report we filed for the oil is also appended at the bottom of this article; the NRC incident number is #999320. And as always, you may download our entire GPS flight tracks and see our position every ten seconds along the route; see today's flight under the main menu item Flight Tracks on this site.
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.  

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2011 December 20, Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico

Yesterday morning, Transocean reported a 13,000-gallon (310-barrel) spill from their Deepwater Nautilus semi-submersible, which is currently drilling for Shell Oil in 7,200' of water about 26 miles southeast of the sunken Deepwater Horizon, in the Appomattox area. The spill was reported to be oil mixed with drilling fluid from a leak in a booster line.  A "light surface sheen" was verified by the U.S. Coast Guard during an overflight.  We arrived there a little after 11am and found two vessels: Akira Chouest and Emily Candies. The seas were too rough and visibility too poor to positively identify any surface sheen. But we can say with confidence that the many sightings of oil in the Macondo area on our last flight, December 09, and on this flight, are not associated with this drilling work.  

Enroute there, and on our way back from there, we found more than we expected we would see with the poor atmospheric visibility and rough seas.  Yesterday and today were the first days of decent flying weather for visual surveys in ten days, but visibility was still borderline due to low clouds and mist.  Seas were 4 to 6 ft too, not great for spotting oil or marine life. But in winter here in the Gulf it's futile to wait for perfect blue-sky days, so we were up and early today.
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.  

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2011 Dec 09 Friday
Gulf of Mexico

Lured by a narrow window of clear skies and calm seas, we had the plane warmed up and ready to fly by sunrise.  We were itching to see the offshore area again, having not seen it for almost a month.  On our last flight (Nov 12), we saw more than a dozen large ships working in a 30-sq-mile area around the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster (the Macondo prospect), in addition to the usual smaller supply vessels.  They provided little information about what they were doing except to say that they were "studying natural seeps in the area."  Aerial dispersant planes have continued to conduct almost weekly flights across Breton Sound, over Grand Isle, and out to the Macondo, with the legal blessing of our government and paychecks from the oil industry to spray Corexit to disperse and sink surface oil. Aware of these flights (even as recently as last week), we were prepared to find little or no surface oil; but we were eager to learn if a high level of work activity was continuing. So we were surprised to find not a work vessel in sight, and scattered patches and lines of surface oil almost everywhere we went!  

Here is a map of our flight track; the red circles are surface oil sightings (those marked "1209" were from today; a few sizable slicks from other recent flights are also shown on this map).  As always, you may download our entire GPS track from today's flight, with descriptions of all sightings and waypoint coordinates, by going to the main menu tab called "Flight Tracks."

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2011 November 12, Saturday
Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana shorelines and the Macondo Prospect revisited

Our first flight over the Gulf since late September!  Air and water temperatures were downright chilly, winds were blowing 20+ kts, the sky was covered with clouds, and seas were a little rough. Not the perfect day for flying or finding stuff, and definitely no longer the balmy days of summer over the Gulf.  But it was the perfect day for our passengers and us to go, and we were eager to embrace this wonderland from the air again. We began by surveying some of the Louisiana shoreline where one of our passengers will be replanting and protecting the fragile disappearing wetlands with berms.  We looked along the shores of Lake Borgne, then down to Plaquemines Parish and flew along the shores of eastern Barataria Bay and on down to South Pass.  Noticed only a few flocks of egrets and some ducks, but otherwise wildlife seemed scarce compared to this past summer and early fall.  That part of the mission accomplished, we headed out toward the Macondo Prospect to see what we might see.

2011 September 25, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico

We anticipated one of the most exciting days of whale-shark spotting and tagging yet.  Media was on board the boat to document the interesting interactions among tuna and whale sharks in bait balls we've been witnessing recently, and the scientists had their last five tags of the season to place on the gentle giants.  Blue water began about 60 miles southeast of Grand Isle in a dramatic change from muddy green.  We had fine zoom lenses with us today, too.  We anticipated seeing deep into the mouths of some vertical-feeding whale sharks and counting the spots on their sides!  The blue water was crystal clear, almost a mirror finish -- so smooth, we guessed we would be able to see tuna jumping 20 miles away...

2011 September 21, Wednesday
Gulf of Mexico -- Taylor Energy site and the Macondo "Prospect"

Rain and high seas have kept most boats and people near shore for the past week.  A brief break  and a lightning-free path from the tip of Louisiana southeastward about 85 miles sent a determined group of concerned citizens out to try to collect some of the fresh oil we've been documenting, with On Wings Of Care guiding their path.  The oil was exactly where it has been for the past several weeks, so the initial rendezvous point we gave them put them almost in the middle of it.  Once we arrived, a slight shift in position by less than a mile brought them to some serious ugly...

2011 September 15, Thursday
Gulf of Mexico, "Green Canyon"  

Another outstanding day for finding whales, whale sharks, and sea turtles in the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico! About 150 miles south of New Orleans, just 15 miles north of our planned rendezvous point with the whale-shark scientists and free divers, we came upon an extraordinary sight.  A very large sperm whale putting on an impressive tail-slapping show.  But beyond him there was another quiet one, and another, and another... in an area smaller than one-half square mile, we had two large individual sperm whales and three mother-calf pairs!   The calves were about one-half as long as their moms and were nursing, though once a calf came alongside mom and appeared to be slapping her with his pectoral fin.  (Must be a son, boys will be boys, right?).   The sight of these giants hanging out together and feeding their young is thrilling and reassuring.  Love and Life are alive here still.
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.  

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2011 September 13
Morgan City, Louisiana

Shortly after we began finding and reporting the presence of large oil slicks in the Gulf in the vicinity of last year's Deepwater Horizon explosion, On Wings Of Care received an invitation from Captain Jonathan Burton of the US Coast Guard in Morgan City, LA to meet with them and discuss a possible collaboration for monitoring oil and other spills of hazardous substances or illegal activities in the offshore areas of the Gulf of Mexico.   We had a very productive and interesting meeting together at the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City on September 13. 

2011 September 11, Sunday afternoon
Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi's "Green Canyon"


Whale Sharks are back in the Gulf!   And this was a stellar day for whale-shark scientists. This afternoon, about a hundred miles off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, the bait balls were alive, the tuna were jumping, the birds were eating, and every single one of those glittering circles of life had a beautiful whale shark feeding.  In an area not much farther from the Innovator rig than about 5 nm north and south, we quickly spotted at least 15 whale sharks.  Divers from the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory managed to place gps tags on five different animals, and also took core samples from four individual animals.  It was a beautiful, no -- thrilling -- site to see these gentle giants again. 
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.

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2011 September 11, Sunday
Gulf of Mexico, Macondo Prospect


It was a lovely calm, clear morning for our guest journalist and photographer.  They have waited through days of bad flying weather and aircraft maintenance delays in order to fly with us over the Gulf to see the oil we've been finding.  With bulky professional camera equipment that dwarfed its petite handler and GPS and recording notebooks ready to go, we flew directly to the Macondo prospect, eager to see what still water and air would reveal. No stopping this time to check out the almost commonplace oil slicks around platforms within 30 nm of shore, we made a beeline for the "Macondo Prospect" (Mississippi Canyon Block 252), to see how all the oil slicks and lines of "globules' that we began documenting in late August might have changed since the intervening tropical storms.  

We had barely arrived in the area before the oil sightings began, and soon after, we discovered that we weren't the only ones out here chasing oil! Three BP-contracted ships were on this scene as well -- the Sarah Bordelon, the Rachel Bordelon, and a giant of a ship called the Skandi Neptune -- which some of you will remember from its key role here for ROV purposes after the Macondo well explosion last year.   Oil companies tell us that they are investigating "natural seeps well known for decades to exist in the Gulf of Mexico."  If the sources of all this oil are natural seeps, those seeps appear to be weeping.

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.

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2011 September 10, Saturday
Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Canyon

We took a last-minute evening flight over the Gulf, to test out a repair to our electrical system and to try to show a friend visiting some whale sharks.  They also wanted to see if there was still oil out there, so with little sunlight left, we headed directly for the Mississippi Canyon and the scene of last year's disaster, where we've been documenting signs of fresh oil, lots of it, for the past few weeks.  We found what we were looking for!

2011 September 07 Wednesday


With blue skies and north winds, we headed out to see what the still-rolling seas had done with the large oil slicks we filmed just one week ago, southeast of New Orleans about 130 miles.  We saw more sediment (?) than usual along the MRGO and near shores.  And we saw multiple surface slicks near platforms in Breton Sound and southward -- such slicks are getting to be common sights.  We were treated to the sight of a very, very large group of birds in flight, just north of Breton Sound...
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.  

This is a letter written by On Wings Of Care's Founder, Bonny Schumaker, and mailed on Tuesday, 2011 September 06, to political leaders from local Louisiana and Mississippi levels up to the White House, including members of the EPA, the US Coast Guard, Department of Energy, and national media.  It is written in solidarity with many residents of Louisiana and Mississippi and other Gulf states, on behalf of all who love the Gulf of Mexico.

An Open Letter to our National and Local Leaders and Legislators


2011 September 06

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen,