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2013 March 08, Friday
Gulf of Mexico

A few weeks ago, our flight over the Gulf showed little of the usual ugly sheen we had been seeing off the southeast coast of Louisiana for the past six months, so we voiced cautious but hopeful optimism. (See "Clearer views and good news for the Gulf?") But today's flight gave us anything but optimism.  We saw pervasive rainbow and gray sheen in many places, including the two chronic pollution sites that have plagued the Gulf for years now -- the Taylor Energy site about 12 nautical miles (nm) off the southern tip of Louisiana, and the Macondo prospect another 50 nm offshore (home to the infamous lease block MC252 and the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe of 2010 April). We have flown more than 500 flight hours in the past three years over these offshore and coastal waters, and the two trends that disturb us most are 1) sources of "unknown sheen" are constant and uniquitous, and 2) the presence of visible marine life has dropped drastically.   After today's flight, we filed 15 NRC reports with the US Coast Guard for significant oil slicks or sheens over our 350-nm route.

We began by heading southwest from New Orleans to check out the coastal waters south Terrabonne and Timabalier Bays, beginning as far west as the Isles Dernieres (home of the famous pelican star of our favorite novel "The Story of Pellie Lou - a Pelican who survived the Gulf of Mexico oil spill"). We wanted to follow up on a few significant slicks and sheens that had been reported in these areas over the past week or so. It was exciting to return to this once thriving pelican rookery, but we were startled to see how much the islands and wetlands have eroded in the past two years, and how vastly fewer pelicans and other seabirds are nesting there now.

We then headed east acorss the southern ends of Terrabonne and Timbalier Bays, making our way over to the Taylor Energy site. By the time we reached the Taylor Energy site, we had already logged five sightings worthy of NRC reports! The coastal waters south of Louisiana are -- well, they're kind of a mess.

The Taylor Energy site looked quite strange today. There was considerable humidity and haze here and northward, as you can see from the photos below. The muddy-to-green water convergence line seemed to be farther north than usual, but the amount of cloudy-looking water and foam lines was much greater than we've ever seen here before.  Farther to the east than we have usually marked the visible slicks here, we came upon the familiar thick lines of rainbow sheen, except today these lines were running north to south, not the usual southwest to northeast. Apparently the leaks at the Taylor Energy site are still flowing strongly.

Heading south from the delta, we encountered three more significant-sized expanses of surface oil sheen before we came to the MC252 area. Arriving at MC252, we saw that the ENSCO 8502 drilling rig has now moved on, leaving this gravesite empty and quiet again, for now. But not so clean. Expansive light sheen pervaded the area, stretching about seven nm from west to east, and in varying shapes and windy lines, it stretches more than 10 nm to the south.  As we flew southward from MC252, we found the ENSCO DS-3 drillship still where it has been for the past several months, and a few miles beyond that BP's MC474A "Nakiki" production platform.  This platform was flaring, as usual, with dirty smoke rising high into the air. There was light surface sheen for miles and miles to the north and east of Nakiki, and scattered rainbow patches in the sheen to its north.  We also noted several other significant-looking areas of surface sheen between here and about 10 nm northwest of MC252, making a total of three more NRC pollution reports beginning with the sheen at MC252.

As we headed back to New Orleans via Breton Sound, we flew over Eloi Bay, about 40 nm southeast of New Orleans, where a moderate-sized slick with a heavy rainbow patch had been reported on  March 6. Sure enough, that slick and the rainbow patch with gas bubbling at its center was still there; and there was a second rainbow patch to its north about a mile.  NRC reports #14 and #15, and we were more than ready to head back to the airport!

Here are some illustrative photos of the most distinctive sites we reported today. More photos and videos of these and other sites, including some happier ones such as large flocks of birds, interesting vessels, and beautiful wetlands, are included at the bottom of this article. Just above the rest of the photos is the transcription of our Flight Log, with many more details about our sightings and their exact locations. You can also download our GPS flight tracks for today here.

Here are maps of our flight today:

Beautiful sights of birds on our way down toward the Isles Dernieres:


The Isles Dernieres -- beautiful, despite gas platforms adjacent to them on the north, and surface sheen to their west and south (our first NRC report, #1040575):

Southwest of Port Fourchon, a 2.5-3 nm long sheen.  Our second NRC report, #1040578:

South of Port Fourchon, two separate half-mile long sheens.  Our third and fourth NRC reports, #1040579 and #01040576. Here is a photo of the first one:

About 20 nm south of Grand Isle, another mile-long sheen running southwest to northeast.  Our fifth NRC report, #1040577:

Finally we arrived at the Taylor Energy site! But what strange views we found. Foam lines and very cloudy water to the north of the convergence line. Strange-looking indeed. Then a bit farther east than usual, we found the familiar thick rainbow patches, this time forming a north-to-south line about 2 nm long.  Our sixth NRC report, #1040575:

Here's a video of the Taylor Energy site:


We headed almost due south from here for about 20 nm, toward a known natural seep site in MC331. Enroute there, about five miles south of Taylor Energy, we came across our first patches and line of sargassum.  Not rich, luxuriant, healthy sargassum, but at least some.  Here's a short video of it:


Just north of MC331, we came across a pipe-carrying vessel, the Joshua Chouest. From the MC331 area eastward toward MC252, we noted three distinct significant areas of surface sheen.  The third one was very close to another known natural seep site, MC294.  These were our seventh, eighth, and ninth NRC reports, #1040581--83:

Finally, we arrived at MC252, scene of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The ENSCO 8502 drilling platform has gone; the scene is eerily quiet and empty. Except that there is still sheen! Stretching 7 nm from west to east, and more to the southeast another several miles.  Our tenth NRC report, #1040584:  

Here is a video of this area, between MC252 and the BP Nakiki production platform 12nm to the south. The ENSCO MODU DS-3 is located about 2 nm north of Nakiki and can be seen in the photos above and in this video:


Our eleventh NRC report, #1040590, was the additional extensive sheen located between MC252 and the BP production platform "Nakiki" (MC474A) about 12 nm to the south, plus still more sheen that extended several miles to the east from Nakiki. This area is technically blue water; but to look at it, it is a dull gray from the sheen:


Several miles to the southwest of MC252 we tracked another long band of sheen that stretched almost 8 nm west to east.  Our twelfth NRC report, #1040580. We have no stills of this one, but we have some video:

About 10 nm to the northwest of MC252 we came across a small line of sheen this one only about 2 nm long and about 20 m wide.  Perhaps a "natural" seep, this one? Our 13th NRC report, #1040587:

Heading back to New Orleans, we enjoyed the familiar site of one of our favorite islands in Breton Sound -- Breton Island. And about 8 miles before we reach Breton Island, there was one particular platform where well over 100 birds were gathered! The fishing must have been great right there!


 Finally, within 40 nm of home (Lakefront Airport), after flying through Breton Sound almost to Lake Borgne, we found more of that ugly rainbow sheen filling pretty little Eloi Bay.  Two NRC reports here, #1040585 and #1040586, for the two distinct rainbow patches and their attendant lines of sheen. In the first location, you'll see what looks like gas bubbling up in the center of it. This was reported to the NRC on March 06. The second area of rainbow sheen is about a mile to the north. Here are photos and a video of these two sites:

We have many, many more photos of each of these subject areas.  Feel free to email us for any more information. It is a key part of On Wings Of Care's nonprofit mission to gather and share with the public all of the factual information we can to help all of us stay informed about the true status, health, and needs of the Gulf of Mexico and her life. We're just sorry we couldn't be using all of this time, effort, and blog space to share photos of thriving, healthy dolphins, whales, sharks, rays, sea turtles, redfish, cobia, seabirds, and more. Trouble is -- we don't see many of those out there any more.


*****  On Wings Of Care Flight Log for 20130308 - Friday *****

Overflight of Gulf of Mexico: Barataria Bay, S of Port Fourchon, Taylor Energy, MC252, Breton Sound

All waypoint numbers below refer to the GPS tracks shown in today’s article at
Times are given in CDT.  
Lat/lons are given in degrees and decimal minutes.
Personnel: Dr. Bonny Schumaker with J. Brayton Matthews of Flightline First, New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport (KNEW)
Seas and weather:  Seas 1-3 ft, winds ~15 kts from the east-southeast.
Sky & Visibility: Hazy skies,  10-15 mile visibility
Flight time:  4.4 hours
Flight route: KNEW - southwest over Lake Salvador toward Isles Dernieres - east to South Timbalier - east to Taylor Energy - South to MC331 and east to Macondo area, north through Breton Sound - KNEW.

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).


Short summary:

This was a Gulf flyover by On Wings Of Care to follow up on recent observations and NRC reports of significant surface pollution (oil and natural gas) as well as two areas of chronic anthropogenic oil slicks -- the Taylor Energy slick just off the southern coast of Louisiana, and the slick near MC252.  (Recall that on our last flight to MC252, 2013 Feb 17, the persistent and large slick near MC252 seen since September 2013 was absent.) 
Isles Dernieres, Terrabonne and Timbalier Bays: We saw many moderate-sized areas of sheen in these areas to the west of the delta, areas we have not visited in over a year.

The Taylor Energy area (southeast of the delta) looked strange, with very large expanses of cloudiness and foam; we wondered what had happened to cause this strange change from how things here have looked for the past year or more. But then a mile or two farther east, we saw many patches of rainbow sheen, forming a line stretching southward.

The Macondo area: The Ensco 8502 rig is now gone, the Ensco DS-3 MODU and the BP platform MC474A remain in their usual positions 12-15 nm south of here.  There remains extensive light sheen in the MC252-253 areas, in lines and crescent-shaped sheets.  There are also some such lines and sheets around MC474A.
Breton Sound: We followed up on a sighting made on March 6 in Eloi Bay, about 40 nm southeast of KNEW. Here we saw two distinct rainbow patches (separated from each other by about 1 nm), with some light sheen in the vicinity as well.  The southernmost rainbow patch had material bubbling up through the middle of it (looked like gas bubbles).

NOTE on estimating oil sheen/slick volumes:
1 acre x 1 micron ~ 1 gal.   263 gal = 1 m
3 = 1 micron x 1 km2; 1042 gal = 1 micron x 1 nm2;
1 nm ~ 2 km ~ 6000 ft ~ 1.15 statute mile (sm).  (1 micron is easily visible from above.)
1 acre ~ 36,000 ft2 ~ 120 ft x 300 ft ~ 30 m x 100 m.   1000 acres ~ 4 km2 ~ 1 nm2.


20130308 -  Waypoints of Interest
(Total route:  ~350 nm)

Flew southwestward, across Lake Salvador, to the west of Galiano airport (KGAO).


0487: N29 08.237 W90 38.993  1134 CST.
Small island north of Isles Dernieres. Dirty shorelines, many birds huddled at the beach end.

**NRC1 - #1040574**: 0488: N29 03.219 W90 58.447  1145 CST
SE end of oil sheen, ~ 50 m wide,  about 1.5 nm long  NW-SE.  Three more of these to our north, between us and the islands and to the west and northwest of the islands. (Photos 0719, 0732, 0734.)
0489: N29 03.219 W90 58.447   1146 CST
NW end of above oil sheen.

0490: N29 01.202 W90 50.809   1152 CST
Gas platform, with small line of sheen to west of it. (Photo-0744)


NOTE: We checked out the gps point “ISDE1” (our nomenclature) because of a previous NRC report at that position.  No sheen or pollution was observed there today, but we did see there a blue/white boat with buoy line, plus a barge labeled “BISSY.”

-- ISDE1: N29 0.28  W090 47.78  (KNEW 75 nm at 212°)
No visible sheen or gas bubbles.

Note: This was NRC #1040178 from 20130306, 06:45:00. (Wed): Anchor from a barge damaged a pipeline, causing a release of natural gas; one person injured.  Says leak has been secured:
NRC Report ID: 1040178 2013-03-06 06:45:00   PIPELINE    NATURAL GAS

**NRC2 - #1040578**0491: N28 59.477 W90 21.116  1209 CST
SW of Port Fourchon, a large sheen was seen. This point marks the SW end of the sheen (actually about 0.5 nm south of the west end of it, as we did not fly directly over it).  About 0.25 nm wide (N-S), about 2.5-3 nm long (SW-NE).

0492: N29 01.309 W90 18.278  1210 CST
This marks the NE end of the above sheen (and about 0.5 nm south of it).


**NRC3- #1040579** 0493: N28 56.301 W90 10.666  1216 CST
Sheen just north of four platforms.  About 30 m wide N-S, 0.5 nm long W-E.  Photos taken to the west of this, looking east.


**NRC4- #1040576** 0494: N28 57.240 W90 08.295  1217 CST
More sheen (about 3 nm NE of 0493 above) , ~ 25m wide N-S, 0.25 nm long W-E.  (No photo.)

NOTE: The above sheens noted at gps points 0493 and 0494 are very close to a previously reported very large unknown sheen, at gps point “TIMB1” (our nomenclature):
-- TIMB1: N28 58.74  W090 10.55  South Timbalier area
NRC Report ID: 1039761 2013-03-01 06:30:00UNKNOWN SHEEN (OIL)
Reported Sheen Size: 3 miles by 3 miles (area 9 sq. miles)
SkyTruth Minimum Estimate: 6157.82 gallons

**NRC5 - #1040577** 0495: N28 55.828 W89 59.978  1222 CST
SW end of a long sheen running SW-NE, about 1.25 nm long.  Photo at ~1821Z. This is about 20 nm south of Grand Isle.

0496:  N28 52.882 W89 26.131  1240 CST.
Enroute to Taylor, many foam lines, all running roughly E-W (just to the north of us).

0497:  N28 53.333 W89 08.670  1249 CST
Strange bubbles in water, lots of them, still W of Taylor Energy site.

**NRC6 - #1040575** 0498: N28 55.354 W89 04.140   1251 CST
Taylor Energy -- East of the weird cloudy patches and foam lines, we found familiar rainbow patches, running a N-S line ~ 2 nm long, 25-50 m wide (see 0499-0500 below).

0499: N28 57.115 W89 01.322  1254 CST
More rainbow patches.
0500:  N28 57.717 W88 59.646  1255 CST
N end of the line of rainbow patches near Taylor.

Note previous locations of the Taylor Energy slicks, such as this from 20130217:
N28 56.27 W89 01.8 (from 20130217)

0501: N28 41.793 W88 50.277  1311 CST.
Joshua Chouest vessel with pipe, heading westward.

**NRC7- #1040581** 0502:  N28 40.606 W88 49.673  1312 CST
N end of a line of sheen, natural seep?  North of MC331, a “known” natural seep area.  ~ 1 nm long by ~20 m wide, N-S.

MC331: N28 38.8 W088 49.77 (Nothing visible at exactly this point, but see 0502 above.)

0503: N28 40.098 W88 38.300  1318 CST
Between MC331 headed eastward toward MC252.  >100 birds here in one spot, sitting on the water!

**NRC8- #1040582** 0504:  N28 41.104 W88 33.152  1321 CST
W end of a long (light, natural?) sheen, ~2 nm long (NW-SE), ~20-40 m wide.

**NRC9- #1040583** 0505: N28 42.927 W88 29.270  1324 CST
W end of another long light sheen line (natural?).  Note this is in close proximity to a known natural seep site MC294 (northwest of Biloxi Dome), and also to out GPS#0474 - where we saw oil on our 20130127 and our 20130120 flights. Here was our report from that flight:

0474. (NRC#3 - Incident Report # 1036760) N28 42.174 W88 29.147 1306 CST.
Same place we saw a surface slick last Sunday Jan 20 (that waypoint was 0464) -- located about 10 nm southwest of the Macondo area, just south of MC294.  This remains a sizable slick, silvery grey sheen, looks like it could be a natural seep. About 15 m wide by 0.5 nm long (northwest to southeast).  Note that this was reported to the NRC last Jan 20 by us as NRC #1036178) and was our waypoint 0464 (N28 40.750 W88 28.729).

MC294: N28 41.62 W088 29.090 (known natural seep site)


OC26: N28 42.45 W088 21.70 (known natural seep site)

**NRC10- #1040584** 0506 (MC252/253 area): N28 44.660 W88 20.570  1330 CST
Sheen (photo taken looking westward).

Ensco 8502 is gone. Expansive light sheen  still pervades the area.  ~7 nm long W-E, plus GPS points 0507 and 0508 below.

Note: our previous GPS #0466 from 20130120 marked exactly where the ENSCO 8502 had been, which was about midway between today’s GPS points 0506 and 0507:
0466. N28 44.702 W88 21.573 KNEW~130 nm at ~135 °.

0507: N28 44.972 W88 22.914  1335 CST
NW end of a line of sheen line NW-SE that is ~3 nm long and ~25-50 m wide.

0508: N28 44.972 W88 22.914  1337 CST
SE end of above, photo taken looking northwestward.

0509: N28 34.961 W88 19.866  1342 CST
Ensco DS-3 MODU, about 10 nm south of MC252.

**NRC11- 1040590#** 0510: N28 33.412 W88 19.013  1343 CST

Just north of Nakika (BP MC474A) platform, about 12 nm south of MC252. The platform was flaring, as usual, with much dark smoke rising from it. The supply vessel “C Captain” was alongside it. A long line of surface sheen east of DS-3 and Nakika pervaded this area between MC252 and the Nakika platform. There are rainbow patches in the sheen north of Nakika and east of DS-3.


**NRC12- #1040580** 0511: N28 43.425 W88 26.482  1358 CST
Several miles (almost 4.5 nm) south-southwest of MC52 we tracked almost to and marked the western portion of another long band of sheen that stretched west to east almost 8 nm (toward MC252, not southeastward toward OC26) and was about 50 m wide on average. This gps point marked about two-thirds of the way from the west end of this band.  (See video of this, we did not take stills.)

**NRC13- #1040587** 0512: N28 51.091 W88 29.447  1403 CST
This marks the south end of another small line of sheen located about 10 nm northwest of MC252.  Perhaps a natural seep?  It ran SE-NW about 2 nm, about 20 m wide.

0513: N28 52.306 W88 31.644  1404 CST
This marked the northwest end of the above line of sheen.

Note:  Our 20130120 flight documented a slick just a few miles north of this area at our gps point #0467, roughly where we noted sargassum in today’s point #0514:
(NRC-5, #1036179) **0467. N28 55.846 W88 31.061  1516 CST. Middle of a small crescent-shaped slick, maybe 200 m long and no wider than ~50 m.
(The above was submitted as a single NRC incident report. Photos _BLD9472--9483.)


0514: N28 56.010 W88 31.619  1406 CST

0515: N28 58.196 W88 37.509  1410 CST
VK989 platform, plus a supply vessel and a small fishing boat.

0516: N29 15.248 W88 52.034  1421 CST
Shrimper (nets not down).

0517: N29 19.022 W88 55.726  1423 CST
Buoy not far from a platform/jackup rig.  Same kind of buoy we saw at Taylor months back, looks like a treasure chest, white.

0518: N29 24.180 W89 00.799  1427 CST
More than a hundred birds all gathered around this old platform.

**NRC14 - #1040585** 0519: N29 44.861 W89 23.881  1441 CST
Following up on an NRC report from Mar 2 for this location about 40 nm southeast of New Orleans, just a few miles “down the MRGO” from Lake Borgne, we found the previously reported rainbow sheen and a second one about a mile to the north of it. This was the location of the first sheen (previously reported at the position of “ELOI” below.) This one had bubbles in the middle of it. There was a faintly visible surface sheen to the south of this rainbow patch stretching about a half mile.

**NRC15-1040586** 0520: N29 45.790 W89 23.753  1443 CST.
This was the location of the second rainbow patch.
To the northeast of this second rainbow patch was a large platform with the label “COX Oil” which presumably belongs to Cox Operating LLC.  We do not know if they have claimed responsibility for either of these two pollution issues.


ELOI:  N29 44.68 W089 23.43.
(NRC report 1039948 from 20130302 11:44:00 ): NE of Black Bay.
2013-03-02 11:44:00      29.7447222222222 -89.3905555555556
Latitude: 29° 44' 41" N     Longitude: 089° 23' 26"




More Photos!

In the order we saw them and as given above, here are additional photos of all of our major sightings from today:

First the birds and islands north of Isles Dernieres:

Next the Isles Dernieres and the various sheens we saw around them and eastward from them to the delta:

Here is the large sheen we saw south of Port Fourchon at 1209 CST:

Here is some of the sheens we saw in the south Timbalier area around 1216 CST:

Here is the sheen we saw about 20 nm south of Grand Isle at around 1222 CST:

Here is the Taylor Energy area:

The sheens we saw in the 25 nm or so between MC331 and MC252:

The extensive sheen in the MC252 vicinity:

The extensive sheen south of MC252 and in the vicinity of BP's Nakika (M474A) platform:

The sheen about 10 nm to the northwest of MC252:

Here are photos on our way northward back from MC252 through Breton Sound to Eloi Bay:

And finally, Eloi Bay:


For your enjoyment, here are a few miscellaneous photos we took on our way southwestward from  New Orleans this morning. You'll see some cattle in the wetlands south of Lake Salvador.  Some wonderful bayou communities that are losing land at a frightening rate due to erosion and wetlands loss. And you'll see some enchanting isolated camps and small islands north of Isles Dernieres.