|Where sea turtles once roamed undisturbed, now spilled oil, methane flames, smoke, spray, and blue ocean combine in a virtual rainbow at the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. ALL photos, Sea Turtle Restoration Project.|
An expert team joined Sea Turtle Restoration Project biologists Dr. Chris Pincetich and Wallace "J" Nichols, Cal Academy Scientist and Turtle Island Board member, to fly with On Wings of Care over the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to document the sea turtle habitat destruction, spot any wildlife in and around the spill, locate areas of dense oil for agency studies, and share our observations with the world.
A school of approximately 30 cow-nosed rays swimming at shallow depths were spotted offshore of the Mississippi River Delta. Oil slicks, pools of weathered oil, and failed booms along beaches were common sights. Hurricane Alex has shifted massive quantities of the huge spill westward towards Texas.
A distinct line stretching to the horizon with blue ocean on one side, gray seas on the other, and weathered oil along the convergence was observed. Further studies are warranted to determine if the distinct blue to grey convergence was only due to oiled waters or if sea floor bathymetry or sediment loads were also contributing. Our agency expert and observations by the team placed us far from obvious sediment convergence seen along the Mississippi. A significant portion of one of the most productive ocean ecosystems is completely coated in oil, and the foul weather is likely mixing the oil and dispersant emulsions deep into every trophic level of sea life, creating the gray seas we observed.
Over a dozen boats clustered around two floating rigs, one red rig on a square platform and one built into a vessel, at the location of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the current oil recovery efforts. Methane flares burned brightly from each rig, sending dramatic plumes of flames into the sky. Support boats sprayed liquids all over the scene, liquids that may have been seawater or dispersants.
Our flight plan took us north to the remote wildlife refuge of the Chandeleur Islands. This island chain had been protected by thin strands of yellow and red oil booms, and most of these booms were now displaced. Beaches were stained black and red as we flew high over the islands to avoid contact with the thousands of sea birds below.
No sea turtles were spotted from the air on water, in convergence zones, or on remote beaches. However, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project team now has firsthand knowledge of the immense sea turtle habitat destruction present in the Gulf, which is growing every day. We will continue our efforts to provide transparent reports on Gulf conditions and activities in our effort to improve sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation from oil exposure, and habitat protections for future generations of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.