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Jungle Joe Investigates Effects from BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
by JungleJoe
2010-06-23
United States Louisiana and Alabama Grans Isle and Gulf Shores

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My Adventure Story


On Wednesday, June 23, I will be traveling to Louisiana to meet with officials from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and representatives from other agencies, rehabilitation centers and response teams to investigate the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its effects on wildlife and the environment. Stay tuned for daily updates.

Thursday, July 24: Day 66 of the Gulf Oil Spill

 

Our day started at 8:00 am at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and

Fisheries located in Grand Isle, LA. We met our guide, Robert Boothes, a

biologist from the research and assessment division. Shortly thereafter

we boarded our vessel and within moments of leaving the dock area we

observed brightly colored oil containment booms extended for hundreds of

feet in the waterway.

 

As we continued through the no wake zone, my camera crew, Mike Manno and Peter Gilles, and I began asking questions about the booms and whether or not they were actually effective. The answer was yes, they were

working and we would see many more during our tour. In fact, we would

see miles and miles of containment booms, absorbent booms (called

"sausage booms" by some locals), and pom-pom booms.

 

One thing that caught my attention on the way from the marina to the bay

was that there were not many boats docked in slips nor water activities

as one would expect to see when visiting a shore area. We would later

learn from a local resident that, "people don't come here (Louisiana) to

swim in our waters and bathe on our beaches -- they come here primarily

to fish."

 

This town is small and is still suffering from the effects of hurricanes

Rita and Katrina. Something more needs to be done to prevent more

destruction to the mangroves, marshes, and other habitats. People are

focusing too much on the birds and not so much their habitats and areas

that provide shelter, food, and nesting areas for all types of wildlife.

 

 We proceeded towards Barataria Bay at which time I caught a glimpse of a

dolphin as it surfaced for air. I immediately expressed my excitement to

everyone on board about the sighting, and as the cameramen scrambled

towards the front of the boat, our tour guide informed us that there

were plenty of dolphins to be seen in the areas we would be visiting

today.

 

Seeing the dolphins made my day until I realized the reality of the

situation they were facing. I love dolphins and saw many of these

beautiful and intelligent animals when I lived in Florida during the

1990s. Today, I witnessed these magnificent creatures as they swam

throughout the contaminated waters of the gulf region of Grand Isle,

Louisiana. Then, a feeling of helplessness and frustration came upon me

as I looked around and saw pods of dolphins everywhere, and the sad part

was there was oil everywhere also.

 

Our guide took us to many different inland waterways logging in his

coordinates of his observations as we made our way around the Grand Isle

water region. Bay after bay we observed, filmed, and watched as our

expert guide reported coordinates to his agency in regards to heavy oil

sightings in the water, oil damage to wildlife, marshes, and wetlands,

and oil containment boom problems.

 

Oil slicks and tar pads where all around us. Helicopters above us were

there to report the story. Boats and other vessels where everywhere

assisting in the clean up process. As we cruised around the bay I

noticed many oil platforms in the distance. Our guide informed us that

oil and fishing were two big industries in Louisiana.

 

During the five hours we spent traveling throughout the waterways of

Grand Isle we saw many islets and grasslands, several of which were

referred to as "bird islands" due to the large amount of birds

frequenting the isles. Brown pelicans, gulls, egrets and other species

of birds were abundant in these areas. Amongst the birds were oil soaked

pelicans with their wings spread wide open, trying (unsuccessfully) to

dry their feathers.

 

We saw numerous boats and vessels that were all there to participate in

the clean up process in some way. There were surveyors, boats

distributing booms, boats collecting booms, vessels with vacuums to suck

up the oil, and even coast guard air boats to monitor the area.

 

There were booms surrounding almost all of the islets and grasslands.

There were booms used for containment and booms for absorption. There

were boats everywhere transporting rolls of booms, collecting booms for

cleaning, or distributing new booms. Even with all the booms in place

there appeared to be plenty of oil-stained grass areas. It was obvious

that much of the oil-coated shoreline of these areas was dead or dying.

 

After only five hours of watching workers tirelessly lay booms, we

realized their efforts to battle the oil from penetrating further into

the grasslands and vulnerable habitats was not 100% effective. The

futile efforts of maintaining the booms was a daunting task.

 

After our tour we returned to the marine laboratory where we met with a

scientist who was working on a project to help break down the oil, which

in turn would speed up the oil removal process. He explained that this

was a fairly new process, but he was confident that his microbes would

decompose the oil very quickly. This information was the positive

reassurance we longed to hear.

 

After leaving the marine laboratory, we drove around the town of Grand

Isle and observed many businesses that were vacated. We came upon a

library with past hurricane damage that was closed and had a for sale

sign. In fact we saw many hurricane-damaged buildings, including several

damaged and unoccupied fire department buildings with fire trucks still

parked inside. It seemed as if the town had been totally consumed by

mobilizing for this new oil disaster without having recovered from the

previous string of disasters.

 

Alongside the library building was a public beach access sign, so we

parked and followed the wooden path to the top of the sand berm, not

knowing what to expect. The three of us stood there motionless and quiet

as we looked the beach, which was virtually empty except for miles and

miles of boom utilized as barriers and the ever-present BP workers. The

beach was closed to the public. We watched workers as they cleaned up

the beach. We also couldn't help but notice 11 oil platforms out in the

oceans horizon. As we decided whether or not we should move closer to

the barricade of boom protecting the beach from oil, I flagged down one

of the many workers cruising up and down the beach on ATVs. He granted

us permission to walk on the beach as long as we promised to avoid

getting run over by one of the many heavy duty trucks operating in the

area.

 

It was apparent that the beach was closed for as far as the eye could

see. The unidentified worker informed us that the entire beach, which

was approximately seven miles long, was shut down due to the oil spill.

We watched as workers used shovels to scoop up the oil saturated sand

which was placed into large plastic bags and put into a huge dumpster

which was hauled away and replaced with an empty one. We were told this

process would continue until all the oil was cleaned up. I could only

hope this would be sooner than later but couldn't help thinking about

the information we heard earlier in the day in regards to more oil

headed towards Grand Isle due to the winds and the still uncapped well

5,000 feet down at the Gulf floor.

 

Later that evening, back at our lodge, we noticed a vehicle with a logo

indicating environmental cleaning. Apparently, the owner was staying

here while helping with the oil spill. We made this assumption because

earlier in the day we saw many people wearing rubber boots and BP shirts

headed off the island and toward Galliano where our lodge was. We

engaged in brief conversation with the two workers who were from Houma,

LA. The two gentlemen, who were reluctant to share information about

their participation in the oil spill clean up, were excited to have

employment, which apparently was scarce for many people. They informed

us that they were not allowed to discuss their job-related duties with

anyone.

 

One thing they did tell us was that Hurricanes Rita and Katrina had

taken their toll on the local residents in recent years. The oil spill

worsened the already poor employment situation since the fishing

industry plays a major part in the work force and economy in Louisiana.

 

Friday, July 25: Day 67 of the Gulf Oil Spill

 

Today, we met our guide at the Sand Dollar Marina around 10:00 a.m.

There were news reporters from around the country, including a crew from

HBO to report the oil spill story. Our guide, Michael Seymour, is a

biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Mr.

Seymour is with the Wildlife Division of the agency.

 

Since there was a large group, we split up onto three separate boats.

One boat was owned by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The

other two were owned by fishermen who couldn't work due to the closing

of oil-soaked fishing waters. Our boat captain, Mark Dingler, informed

us that some of the boats in the Gulf were contracted by BP to assist in

the clean up process. They were the fortunate ones. Mark and his son,

who was the first mate, were both very anxious to get back to fishing

but did not kid themselves that it might not be for a few seasons, at

best. As I have been witnessing just in these two days alone,

Louisianans are more than familiar with the hard struggle to make a

living during a continual string of disasters.

 

Once out in the waters, we saw shrimp boats and other fishing vessels

pulling booms to collect the oil. There were Coast Guard and U.S Navy boats and other vessels participating in the operation. The oil was moved to barges, which were anchored together to make one long platform. On the platforms of these connected barges were vacuum trucks to suck up the surface oil.

 

We visited some of the same areas as yesterday in search of oiled birds,

sea turtles and other wildlife. In addition, we visited an area called

Mangrove Island where we saw hundreds of pelicans of all ages. There

were babies, youngsters and adults. I even spotted two American White

Pelicans, which was unusual for this time if year. There were other

species of birds such as laughing gulls, terns, and roseate spoonbills.

Apparently some of the spoonbills had been in contact with oil but

showed no signs of distress.  It was easy to see the oil stained feathers on the chest area of many of the lighter colored birds.

 

We got to enjoy a second day of seeing the bottle nosed dolphins

throughout the day. It was a fun but challenging time trying to film

the dolphins. It became a guessing came as to where their next surfacing

for air would be to get a photo or video footage.  I couldn't help but wonder if the oil was getting into their blowholes and causing pain or other health related issues.

 

After our boat tour, we filmed a brief interview with Mr. Seymour who

touched on the oil spill and its effects on the environment, wildlife

and the local community. Then we grabbed a quick bite at the marina and

drove around Grand Isle some more. There were many "for sale" signs on

residences and businesses. There were custom made signs throughout the

town which made references to the oil spill. Three particular painted

signs caught my eye: they were Spongebob Squarepants themed and

commented on the closing of businesses due to the spill. These signs

were near a closed seafood restaurant. The playground adjacent to the

restaurant was completely empty, as were many driveways and parking

lots. As we walked around photographing the signs, a convoy of National

Guard turned the corner and drove their large military vehicles right

past us, one after the other. News trucks, law enforcement and other

vehicles we saw were mostly there for the oil situation. We saw very few

residents or families in vehicles.

 

 

Saturday, June 26: Day 68 of the Gulf Oil Spill

 

Today is our last day to film down here in the Gulf region. I am going

to miss the friends and acquaintances we have made, the tropical

weather, beautiful wildlife and certainly the creole and cajun cooking!

We met our guide, Bonnie Strawser, of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

at 6:00 a.m. to begin our day.

 

First, we went to a closed public beach located off of Mobile Street in

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge where we passed one of the many

command posts that can be seen throughout the Gulf region where oil has

been found. Shortly after our arrival, we contacted a USFWS officer on

an ATV who was checking the beaches for sea turtle nests and eggs which

may have been laid the previous night. This is a daily task on this

beach to protect the eggs from the heavy clean-up machinery operating on

the beach. Oil clean up cannot begin until the beach has been cleared

and no turtle nests are in harm's way. Our guide showed us a relocated

sea turtle nest near the dune's edge, which was cordoned off.

 

Once the beach was checked, the trucks began entering the beach one

after the other, some going south, others going north, to began the oil

clean-up process. We saw some oil on this particular beach, which had

the cleanest, whitest sand I had ever seen. In fact, the beaches in the

Gulf shores area were once very clean beaches, until the oil arrived.

One can only guess how long it will be before the beaches are back to

the way they once were.

 

We later went to another part of the refuge known as Little Lagoon,

which had been heavily impacted by hurricane Ivan in 2004. On the way to

the lagoon we passed another staging area where there were police, EMS,

Environmental Protection Agency vehicles and many other officials. An 18

wheeler was just about finished unloading bag after plastic bag of boom.

This was becoming a too-familiar sight during our trip. There were

dozens of yellow school buses lined up for transporting workers, back

hoes, dump trucks, dumpsters, ATVs, military vehicles, canopies and

tables, portable restrooms and piles of booms.

 

A short distance beyond the staging area, we saw a beautiful red fox

cross the road in front of us. Minutes later we were at the lagoon where

we saw brown pelicans, gulls, egrets, plovers, a rabbit and several

ghost crabs. The lagoon, which had been connected to the Gulf Ocean, was

now temporarily blocked from the ocean by manmade sand mounds. The large mounds are to prevent the oiled ocean water from entering and damaging the lagoon habitat.

 

After the lagoon, we headed to the Fort Morgan area, which is also a

part of the national refuge. We saw a small wetland which was protected

by a manmade sand berm to protect it from the ocean water. Our guide informed us that four caring individuals from the refuge took it upon themselves to build this mound which was approximately 100 feet long and 4 feet high.  


We made our way around the wetland and onto the beach and saw fresh tar balls of different sizes along the water's edge for as far as the eye could see.

The balls were gooey from lying in the heat of the sun. As I looked out

into the ocean, I saw several oil platforms and large vessels. There

were media and Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead. As we came upon the edge of the wetland my cameraman, Peter, discovered a six lined

lizard which zipped through the sand dunes, utilizing its camouflage and

the vegetation for protection. 


We drove around the refuge and saw more oil platforms in the Gulf and we came across yet another staging area. There were booms on the dock waiting to be picked up and dispersed where needed.

 

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