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2014 April 11 Friday
Taylor Energy Slick off the coast of Louisiana

On our way back from studying  natural seeps far off shore today (see that story here),  we couldn't resist flying over the infamous Taylor Energy pollution site less than 15 miles off the coast of Louisiana. We've published many articles and countless photos and videos of this desperately sad chronic, vast oil slick whose origin dates back to Hurricane Ivan in 2004.  We've talked at length with the US Coast Guard and government experts on the status of this pollution site and the work that has been done over the past ten years to mitigate it, and we understand the explanations that not much more can be done to stop it at this point. With USCG permission, we will publish more on that in the future. In the meantime, however, we continue to monitor it, and we will continue to share photos or videos with the public on a periodic basis. Suffice it to say, however, that it continues to loom large and ugly, a miles-long barrier between the muddy waters of the Sound and the green waters beyond.

We have a selection of photos taken both from the aircraft windows (obliquely) and the aircraft belly (vertically). As with the natural seeps, scientists like the nadir-viewing photos for studying properties of the oil. We like them because they offer such different views from those we're used to seeing when we look out from a boat or out and down from an aircraft.  The first photos below are of the oil at the Taylor Slick. Below those, we've collected some of the nicer photos of sargassum along today's route, as well as a few special sites such as a huge colony of egrets on one of the few remaining sizable coastal islands, and some interesting pictures of another offshore drilling platform, the "Deepwater Champion."  Enjoy!

2014 April 11 Friday
Lease Block Green Canyon 600 area -- Natural Gas/Oil Seeps
Gulf of Mexico 

Today we re-visited this area located almost 200 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico that is famous for its sea floor.  Not because of its exotic beauty or fascinating marine life, but for its cracks, from which emanate massive plumes of gas and oil. Two of these seafloor openings exude such strong streams of oil and oil-coated gas bubbles that scientists have nicknamed them "MegaPlume" and "Birthday Candles" after how they look in underwater camera footage. This is the Lease Block known as Green Canyon 600. A research vessel named "Atlantis" was there this week, carrying several scientists who have studied these plumes for years. They had with them a small boat called the "Avon" which they wanted to use to take surface oil samples from the area. We were there to direct the crew of the small sampling boat to those areas, because as you can see from the photos below, and as anyone who has attempted to find oil or marine life solely from a surface vessel, there is no substitute for "a look from above" for seeing the big picture of where things are.  

Here are a couple of  photos just to give you a sense of the scale of this seep area.  The Atlantis is 274 ft long; the little Avon is about 14 ft long.  The surface oil lines stretch for several nautical miles!

This Google Earth map showing our flight path also shows icons which refer to the sightings described in our Flight Log appended below.  You'll see the usual red circles denoting oil (circles with lines through them refer to surface oil that is a pollution incident, not a natural seep) as well as other icons denoting extraordinarily large patches or lines of sargassum as well as sightings of whales, sharks, turtles, large fish groups, large dolphin pods, and so on. Unfortunately, on today's flight we saw some fish groups (bait balls) and lots of sargassum, but we did not see any large marine life. We expect that is for two reasons: One, it is still early in the year for large marine life to be returning to feed in the Gulf; and Two, being that we were looking for surface oil, it's not much surprise that we would not find much marine life near those areas.  What never fails to surprise us, though, is just how many areas we find with substantial surface oil sheen.

2014 March 14
Coastal Wetlands of Louisiana

Today we were privileged to host friends from Oceana who have been monitoring the health of the Gulf here off the coast of Louisiana regularly since the BP disaster of 2010. They wanted to talk with people here -- fishermen, local citizens, people who worked the VOO boats, biologists, and more. And they wanted to see some things for themselves.  They took boats and were briefed extensively on the status of fisheries, wetlands and marsh restoration, and community health issues that remain a concern. And they also wanted to get "a look from above" to help put the big picture into better perspective.  Weather wasn't entirely cooperative while they were here, but we found a couple of hours with decent visibility and fairly calm seas, when we could squeeze into their busy schedules. They pitched in to help with our fuel costs, and off we went. Here is a map showing our flight route: