Monday, October 25, 2010

The Big Fool Says to Push On

It was 1967 when Pete Seeger wrote the song, 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy', but he couldn’t get it on the air due to censorship because of the Vietnam war. It took a year for the song to go public. Funny sometimes how things don’t change. The Big Fool still wants us to push on.

On August 23, we headed out with a collaborative team headed up by Dr. Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Captain Al Walker & Marine Biologist & Captain Scott Porter of Ecorigs. Our merry band included folks from Oceanic Defense, Sea Shepherd, Mission Blue, The National Wildlife Federation and All Eyes on the Gulf. What a mob!

Our mission was to head offshore to find bluewater, where we hoped to locate turtles and also to take samples of sargassum to see if there were any signs of hydrocarbons. But we found no bluewater and no sargassum. Our divers did spot one Kemps Ridley Turtle on the rig. We saw few bait balls, a few seabirds, and our guides, longtime fisherman Captain Al, and local marine biologist Scott Porter agreed that life out there was scarce.

Ten miles outside of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi, we approached Exxon Mobil’s Lena Oil rig. It has been producing since 1984 and sits in 1000 feet of water on the edge of the Mississippi Canyon. It’s no wonder that there is so much life growing on the rig. Notorious for ripping currents & big sharks, the Lena Rig promised to be an exciting dive.

As we approached, the roar and drone of the engines and generators was
almost deafening. It was an ominous, reverberating sound that felt like it vibrated every cell of my body. As a diver, I immediately thought of the poor fish gathered below, living with all of that amplified sound.

But the rigs do offer a safety of sorts – their latticework of metal below the water acts as an artificial reef where the fish can find shelter and food. Our two captains and dive leaders Al Walker and Scott Porter checked out the conditions. Visibility was low and the currents were moderate. Hoping for better visibility beneath the surface layer, they decided it was a go.

Fox News 8 from New Orleans was onboard, and they did a great piece the next night highlighting underwater footage shot by Al and Scott.

OK, so for all of you who know me, you’re thinking, “Why didn’t she dive?” Well, my hat is off to the guys who did, but I’m just not sure about this toxic soup. I hope to return to dive out in the blue water on some of the rigs farther offshore, but as you’ll see from the map image, this rig is right in the thick of it, and so I decided to observe from the surface.

On the way back to shore, we took water samples to be sent off for independent testing. As you can see, we encountered some very nasty stuff. In the video, the material on the surface that looks like mucous is, we think dispersed oil, and was actually taken the day before. On August 23, we found only foamy bubbles with brown oil on the surface. Conditions change from day to day a great deal.

Our day ended with a beautiful ray of hope, as we came through the marshes on the way back to Cypress Cove Marina in Venice. We saw egrets, herons, and roseatte spoonbills in greater and greater numbers as we came inland. They seemed to be healthy, and we saw adults and juveniles. It was breathtaking, and actually healing after what we had seen offshore.

So yes, all this, and The Big Fool Says to Push On. What do you say? Shall we push back?

The Growth of Oil in the Gulf of Mexico

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's Not Over in Plaquemines Parish

Usually when we see Kindra Arnesen, she’s speaking out for the people of her South Louisiana Parish – one of the hardest hit areas from the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Yep, this pretty Cajun mama has taken them all on. It was priceless to see her get right up into Ken Feinberg’s face on the issue on why so many families in Plaquemine’s Parish have not yet received any payments from BP. And it brought a tear to my eye when she stood up in front of the White House last month, gettin' down about how she and other Gulf families feel betrayed in light of the way they’ve been treated after Katrina, and now this. Here’s a short clip to give you a taste. Fasten your seatbelts!

Kindra’s a great Mom, an amazing wife and now, by no choice of her own, a homegrown grassroots activist fighting tooth and nail for the people of the Gulf. And her voice has been heard around the world. After following Kindra on TV and YouTube for several months, I was a bit intimidated about meeting her. But this lady is ‘good to the bone’. After a couple of hours chatting with Kindra and her husband David, they felt like family.

It’s true of Kindra, David, and so many other folks I’ve met in Louisiana. They’re the real deal. Imagine getting into a time machine and going back 150 years to a better time. When a handshake meant everything. People looked you in the eye and you could feel who they truly were. Their laughter came from the heart, without warning, often for no reason at all. It was when most people were just plain good. And did I mention? Strong. Really strong.

Clearly the hardships these Bayou folks have had to endure have strengthened their characters. They are people of the sea. They have not led their lives glued to the TV and the Internet. They intrinsically understand what we have forgotten. With the world ocean in such jeopardy the tragic loss of many such fishing based cultures may be inevitable.

Here, where the Mississippi Delta fans out into the Gulf of Mexico at almost no elevation at all, you can be 30 miles north of Venice and it feels just like you're in the middle of the ocean in a boat.

They live on this peninsula where the Mississippi river reclaims a football field of land every hour. The very existence of this delta takes billions of dollars a year to maintain. And just offshore, a gold mine in precious oil.

David, Kindra and their neighbors have been there from Day 1. And still the onslaught continues. Every day, the oil comes in with the tide. It spreads up into the marsh grass, coating it. Then heated by the sun, it melts and drips back down into the marsh. At night, they still spray their toxic dispersants. No, things are not OK in Plaquemine's Parish. And they won't be for a very long time.

In this recent video, Kindra gives us the latest on public health (or the lack of it) in the Gulf. Kindra and her friends Joanie and Vicky of the Coastal Heritage Society of Louisiana are running ongoing fund drives for Gulf families. Imagine you're a Gulf fisherman and your entire livelihood is gone. Many of these families have had no income since April. Now, they're faced with having their electricity turned off, and making decisions as to whether they should be food or medicine for their kids.

Video thanks to Project Gulf Impact at

The Coastal Heritage Society's website includes links to a kids wish list where you can buy toys through It's a snap and nothing feels quite as good as spreading a little Christmas cheer, right?

You can follow their progress and get Gulf news straight from the Bayou (and even catch up with their archived shows) on blogtalk radio at

It's going to be a long hard road, but if anyone can win this war, it's these folks. I feel it in my heart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Support California AB 234 to Protect our Shores from Oil

Pacific Environment's Jackie Dragon speaks about California AB 234 at the Golden Gate Bridge on September 15, 2010. Authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, this bill would afford California protection against many of the hazards brought to light by the tragic Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Oil & Wildlife in Barataria Bay ~ They're Both Still Here

As my Oceanic Defense colleague Samantha Whitcraft says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope”. I keep reminding myself of that. Today we found life here. Dolphins, pelicans, hermit crabs, and yes, even the welcome stings of mosquitoes. Just a few weeks ago, it was eerie to be on the docks with no sounds of seabirds, and in the marshes at dusk with no mosquitoes buzzing around your ears. So today I didn’t much mind the itching of a few mosquito bites.

On Friday, Chris Pincetich, Brock Cahill & I were guided out into Barataria Bay by Captains Al Walker and Tracy Palmisano. We were also joined by marine biologist Scott Porter. All three men have been on the job since day one of the Gulf disaster and their insights into the realities of what’s going on here have brought me to a new level of understanding about the scope of this tragedy. We went out to see for ourselves how much oil is still there, and we found plenty.

Al Walker was a charter fishing captain until the Deepwater Horizon disaster made his local fish unsafe for consumption. A supporter of offshore oil drilling until this disaster hit, his outspoken and often controversial commentaries have been aired on AP, FOX news, and numerous other media outlets. He’s hosted the Cousteau family onboard and has been diving IN the toxic crude & dispersant mix. Local boatyard owner and fisherman Tracy Palmisano and biologist Scott Porter have been right alongside Captain Al, documenting what they’ve seen for these months since the gusher blew. And what they’ve seen isn’t pretty – or healthy.

On our way out of Myrtle Grove harbor that morning, we passed shrimp boat after shrimp boat, heading out to their fishing grounds. The jury is still out on how safe or abundant their catch may be, but after what we have seen, I just don’t understand how anyone could buy, sell or eat shrimp caught in this area.

Oil is still very much present in the marshes, on the marsh grass, and on the bottom of the bay. As Tracy maneuvers his Glacier Bay catamaran into the shallows, the outboards kick up oil from the bay’s floor. As you walk along the edge of the marsh, your steps are surrounded by oil. And just a few yards offshore, a pod of dolphins chases bait fish and plays. Pelican Island was covered in birds, but the dark colors on some of the birds indicated that they too, may be oiled. We did not approach closely, not wanting to disturb these poor creatures anymore than they already have been.

As we motored around the marshes, we checked out a new kind of boom that is being deployed in some areas. All over Barataria Bay, you see booms. And only a few are of this new type. Its similar to the brushes used in a commercial car wash. The booms float on the surface, and below them hang hairlike ‘mops’ to catch oil and dispersant flowing under them. They certainly seem to be working better than the standard booms which just bob along on the surface, blocking only what is on the top of the water. The use of the standard booms makes no sense, especially with the overuse of dispersant, which has sunk most of the oil and dispersed it into the water column.

For Captain Al and his friends, their raw anger has perhaps mellowed a bit, but it still seethes below the surface, just like the oil which is still very much present in the Gulf and its bays. Yes, Captain Al and his buddies know that they’ve been exposed to large amounts of toxic materials, but they don’t make much of it. That’s just the way it is for them. I find it hard to put into words what I think of these men. What runs in their blood is what is missing from too many Americans today. They are overflowing with determination, strength, courage and love for their natural world. They are not going to give up, they’re not going to be silenced. The world needs more Bayou Warriors like my new friends, Al, Tracy & Scott.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Putting Our Heads Together - It's Just Not That Simple

Yesterday, Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project & I visited with the good folks at the Gulf Restoration Network in downtown New Orleans. Meeting with Blue Frontier / Peter Benchley Award Winner Cyn Sarthou and her staff, we discussed many aspects of the plight of the Gulf and it’s endangered turtle species.

Aside from the obvious threat of exposure to oil, turtles are in harms way on many different fronts. Not all states enforce the use of TEDs - turtle extruder devices which are installed in shrimper's nets to allow trapped turtles to escape without drowning.

Sea turtles must surface to breathe approximately every 20 minutes or suffocate. Some states put the economic hardship to their fishermen above wildlife welfare, and this has caused additional turtle mortality beyond what has already been caused by the oil and dispersants. And now, with shrimping season re-opening, many are worried about how many more turtles will lose their lives.

It is definitely a tough call. The economic impact to the shrimping families here is staggering and it’s hard to think about enforcing any law that makes it even worse for them.

It was interesting to learn that there are actually three shrimping areas in the Gulf – The deep bayou, the coastal area, and the deep sea fisheries. Sea turtles do not live in the deep bayou, plus these fishermen are working in shallower areas. If they use TEDs, it hinders their work and lowers their catch. Obviously, coastal and open ocean shrimp fisheries must continue to use these devices. It seems that at every turn, the complexities of the situation here become more evident.

It seems that the biggest problem right now for Gulf turtles are the dredging operations rebuilding some of the barrier islands. It was fascinating to learn more about the Mississippi Delta system and how the Army Corps of Engineers and others continue to battle the natural course of this mighty river – year after year, costing literally billions of dollars. Here’s an amazing fact. The Mississippi delta is losing a football field every day to the sea.

The Army Corps of Engineers devised a plan some years ago to deploy 60’ long trawling nets in the area of dredging where turtles are suspected to be present. Turtles caught in the net are relocated out of harm’s way from the dredging operation. Despite these measures, however it seems that turtles are being killed by the dredges in increasing numbers. And the unfortunate thing is that if turtles are caught up in the hopper dredges, no one ever knows. I’ll spare you the gory details.

I, for one am not convinced that there is any long term benefit to building up these barrier islands. After spending many days flying over them, I don’t see how they could possibly offer much protection to the mainland from a hurricane. And with climate change and the sea level rise that will come with it, how long should we throw good money after bad, all the while endangering fragile species along the way?

Perhaps it’s time to let Mother Nature and the Mississippi follow their natural course, and take what they will back into the sea.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gulf Whale Sharks ~ Canaries in the Coal Mine?

Whale Sharks, the largest fish on earth who are also known for their docile nature are in danger from the Gulf Oil Disaster. As filter feeders who feed by skimming along the surface, the possibility of ingesting oil is high. Dr. Hoffmayer is very concerned about these gentle creatures, and is doing everything he can to determine how they are faring in this crisis.

MSNBC Nightly News with Brian Williams did a great feature on our work.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gulf of Mexico Flyovers ~ August 8th & 9th, 2010

Flying with Bonny Schumaker from 'On Wings of Care' has been an eye opening experience. Bonny has been flying her souped up Cessna over these waters most days since the gusher broke loose in April. And with insights added by Samantha Whitcraft of Oceanic Defense, we were able to draw some pretty clear conclusions as to whether or not there is still oil out in the Gulf. And there most definitely is, and you can see it for yourself in this footage.

This disaster, which some experts estimate at 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez, is not over. With the copious amount of Corexit sprayed under and over the Gulf waters, much of the oil has dispersed, sunk, or otherwise become hidden from view. But there is no mistaking the vast areas of rainbow sheen on the surface of the ocean, stretching in patches as far as the eye can see to the horizon. As we approached, we all hoped that we were looking at areas of no wind where the sea surface would appear like glass. But as we got closer, the multicolored sheen made it clear. We were looking at oil. Seeing it in person, your mind really can’t grasp how much oil you’re looking at. It is mind boggling.

Another confusing thing out there is the sargassum weed, which looks deceivingly like crude oil, or what they call ‘mousse’ when seen from the air. The weed collects in lines, and is the same orange color as weathered crude. And we saw both. Today a BP employee told me at breakfast that there are still tar balls washing up on the islands off Mississippi. “This stuff is going to keep coming to the surface for a long time”, he said. In the next breath, he said that yes, BP is scaling back operations and removing more equipment & personnel every day.

The Gulf disaster is like cancer. When the doctor first tells you, you panic and you feel as though your life has been ripped apart. Everything goes into high gear as you scramble to deal with the monster. But over time, if you survive, it becomes a long term management issue. It’s less dramatic but nevertheless, still very much there. Just like the dispersed oil, the disaster lives below the surface now. Even in many of the residents, it's not something they talk about anymore. How can we make sure that the Gulf region is not forgotten? Every day that I am here, I see more evidence of the pull back.

In many of the Gulf heroes who I’ve learned to love and respect, I sense a change. It’s harder to keep going without the impetus of immediate disaster. But they’re shifting into low gear and continuing on. Just as they did after Katrina, just as they’ll always do.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grand Isle - Where Is Everybody?

It was my second visit out to Grand Isle in as many weeks. My expedition partner Samantha Whitcraft from Oceanic Defense has been engaged in on the water research and aerial surveys since her arrival in the Gulf, and wanted to round out her experience by seeing the gusher’s impact on the terrestrial environment as well. The Gulf Disaster has all but disappeared from the national news, and Unified Command continues to open more beaches and fishing grounds at the same time that they are laying off thousands of workers. Having spent three days flying over the Gulf, we are very much aware that this is not over, nor will it be for a very long time.

It’s just that the character of the disaster has changed. One could say that it has moved from an acute phase into a more chronic situation. The long term effects of the blowout will evolve over time. For wildlife, immuno-deficiencies, genetic disorders, expanded dead zones, and more problems will manifest as the years go by. In terms of the economic impact, the effect is easier to see. Boarded up businesses, sarcastic billboards ‘thanking’ BP, all tell you that all is not well in this former fisherman’s paradise.

In the meantime, Unified Command is scaling back their operations. What does this mean for the people of the Gulf? For many in the Vessels of Opportunity Program, cleanup workers, and others, it means that their boats sit in port, and their meager income stops. For the shop owners & hotels of the hardest hit areas, it means that this artificial boost to their business will be trickling away.
The sad truth is, if these people want to work, there isn’t much left out there other than working in the oil industry. And with the drilling moratorium, these people are in a world of hurt.

What we found this week was an abandoned beach. The BP camp at the end of Grand Isle was almost empty. Even the fences marking off the makeshift parking lots were gone. Last week it was crawling with workers, dune buggies, trucks, and there were Porta Potties everywhere. Now, I’d say 85% of that is gone. The locals told me that they’ve been promised that the military & cleanup workers will come back after the Tropical Depression passes. I don’t believe it. I think they’ll come back, but in smaller numbers. They could be using the storm to sneak out the back door. I expect no less of them.

I’m making a commitment to return to Grand Isle before I leave the Gulf just to see if Unified Command is going to stand by these people, or not.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grand Isle & Barataria Bay - What Have We Done?

Grand Isle. Barataria Bay. Port Fourchon. These are not just names on Google Earth to me anymore. Each one has a unique flavor, and they have a way of getting into your soul. The little fishing towns are dying. Shops still haven't taken down their signs advertising crab and shrimp. I stopped by today in a souvenir shop, hoping that my purchase of a few t-shirts might ease some hardship. The owner said to me that if it weren’t for the workers & military on the island, she’d be out of business. Later, as I watched a huge black bus load up with military personnel, I thought about the government and BP ‘scaling back’ their operations. This woman’s livelihood will soon be gone as well. Many of the other businesses on Rt. 1 in Grand Isle are already gone. Only the hotels are still full – in fact it was impossible to get a room anywhere in the vicinity. For now. But as the cleanup workers and the military trickle out, I’m afraid so will the livelihoods of the rest of the fine folk of Grand Isle. I ask myself. What will become of them? Where will they go?

At the same time, I am taken aback by the incredible beauty of the place. I didn’t expect that. Driving out through Barataria Bay on a long ribbon of causeway, it seems that the marshes and wetlands stretch on forever. It has the feel of being out at sea, even though the actual coast is many miles away. It’s simply exquisite. It’s not a sweaty dirty swampy place – it’s pristinely beautiful. I can only imagine what a paradise this must have been before the Deepwater Horizon. And even with the environmental disaster that’s befallen this corner of our planet, people were still fishing and casting their nets in the marshes. It’s a mystery to me.

If you were to drive through with your windows closed (not hard in the 98 degree heat), you’d be craning your head to see the booms, the big ships, the waterways – it’s fascinating to see. But in many areas, the minute you open your car window, you are met with the putrid stench of death. It fills your nostrils. Today I actually started back to the car to get my respirator or at least a dust mask against the smell – it was sickening. But I decided to tough it out and walked the shoreline looking for what had died. I never found a thing. Later there were news reports that Grand Isle had suffered a fish kill the night before. In typical ‘Incident Command’ style, it was all cleaned up by morning. But they still haven’t figured out a way to hide that smell. And even now, almost twelve hours later, I can still smell it.

The beach road of Grand Isle is much like many other coastal towns in America. Quaint funky houses on stilts, backed by a low hill covered in sea grass, and on the other side, the ocean. How many times have we, as children climbed such a hill, and at the top of the rise, there it is, like magic - the ocean! But here it's different. When you climb over the hill, you’re hit with a complete assault to your senses. It looks like Iraq. You come over the hill, and there it is – our own, self created hell. Huge trucks rumble by, compressing the sand and leaving their monstrous tracks. Bulldozers push piles of filthy sand into piles for removal. The young military have a look on their faces that is at the same time polite, yet also somewhat ashamed as they tell you 'the rules'. This is what our dependence on oil has reduced us to, and may God forgive us. No photos, no words can accurately convey the shock I experienced today.

As you drive back towards the mainland, there’s a fantastic raised causeway over the marshes that comes down into Port Fourchon, the seaport known as "The Gulf's Energy Connection". The industrial complexes belonging to the big oil companies and the Port Commission spread out over the landscape like a cancer. It feels like they should absolutely not be there, but our hunger for cheap energy demands it. I came away with the deepest feeling I’ve ever had that we must cure our addiction to fossil fuel. It is a blight on our planet and everything about it is an assault – from the burning in my eyes to the ugliness of these huge complexes of steel and smoke spreading out over these beautiful green and blue marshes. We must find a way to stop this. I’ve said that before, but I’ve never truly meant it as much as I do today.

Despite the ugliness & destruction that I witnessed today, somehow through it I could see the America that our forefathers discovered. That pristine continent is clearly gone forever, but we must pull together and make the necessary changes to save at least a glimmer of its beauty for the future children of our ocean planet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Long Beach Marina ~ Precursor to the Fish Kills?

On August 1, 2010 I took a late afternoon walk on the jetty at the Long Beach Marina in Mississippi. Folks were fishing although the entire marina is still surrounded by booms. As I walked along, the putrid stench of death almost knocked me over. I looked down at the waterline and saw a very large fish lying dead on the rocks. The seagulls swooped down to take a look, but even the crabs wouldn’t touch the carcass. And yet, just a few yards away, people were fishing and casting their nets out into the water. As I watched the scene, I saw two more bodies of the same type of fish drifting towards the shore. Two nights later, a massive fish kill was reported just a few miles away in Biloxi.

Don’t believe what you hear, things are definitely not OK in the Gulf. This week, there have been fish kills reported in four states: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi & Louisiana. And that doesn’t take into account all the fish that die offshore and sink to the bottom. One thing is clear: the scope of this disaster is in its infancy. People here are frightened, angry and stunned. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if this were my home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bonny Schumaker ~ An angel flying 'On Wings of Care'

On July 31 I had the privilege of meeting pilot, NASA physicist & animal rights activist Bonny Schumaker at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. Bonnie is founder of ‘On Wings of Care’, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the welfare of domestic animals and wildlife and their habitats by helping with searches, rescues, transports, rehabilitation, and scientific research.

 From November of 2009 until March of this year, Bonny was officer on the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker in the Antarctic. She was onboard the Bob Barker during the infamous sinking of the Ady Gill by the Japanese whaling fleet. She also served as officer for the delivery of the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin to New York in preparation for crossing the Atlantic to defend the lives of endangered blue fin tuna in the Mediterranean this spring.

During this crisis, Bonny has devoted herself to almost daily flights over the Gulf, often operating in the red as not everyone who has a need to fly with her can afford to help her pay for fuel, maintenance and her time. Even before I met Bonny, her generosity, pureness of heart and love of all the planet’s creatures was clear. Meeting her was like stepping into a ray of sunshine.

She struggles daily to reconcile what she sees when she looks down from Bessie, her souped up Cessna 180 plane with what she hears from BP & other officials. As you’ll see in the video, there is still a lot of oil out there. My sources say that when BP and the Coast Guard hear that oil has been sighted in an area, they dispatch their dispersant planes immediately and poof, it’s gone. But we all know – it’s not really gone, is it?

As a child of the sky, Bonny’s mind compares the effect of the dispersant to flying through clouds. “You learn that cumulus clouds can be dangerous to fly through. They can contain hail and high winds, so as a pilot you learn to steer around them. I think of the dispersant as a thick fog that you cannot avoid. You can’t steer (or, if you’re a fish, swim) around the danger. It’s everywhere.”

I showed this video to marine biologist Eric Hoffmayer today. He is studying whale sharks at the University of Southern Mississippi in Ocean Springs (much more on Eric in a future blog). He is also very skeptical of all the ‘good news’ coming out in the media. He did say that the first few shots of ‘blobs of red’ could be crude oil, or they could possibly be sargassum weed. But as the slideshow progressed, what we were looking at was clearly oil and clouds of dispersants.

Bonny described the appearance of the oil from when it comes to the surface. First, the crude oil appears as a bright reddish rusty color. As it ages, it becomes thicker – what they are calling mousse. Once sprayed with dispersant, it looks like clouds in the water. And in the last stage before disappearing completely, it looks like rows of fine bubbles on the water. You’ll see all of these stages in the photos, as well as blackened beaches with tar balls present.

Having seen several videos of Bonny’s flights, such as her flight with Wallace J. Nichols and Chris Pincetich of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, where she flew quite close to the ‘burns’ near Ground Zero, I asked her if she had experienced any toxic health effects from her work. She said yes, describing the classical symptoms, sore throat, hoarseness, and flu symptoms. “And I never ever get sick”, she added.

I then asked if she has come in contact with the oil. She said, yes, she has had to wipe an oily material off of her plane everyday. Since she has been flying over the Gulf during the blowout, the leading edges of her wings and body of the plane get covered with gunk during each flight. I asked if she wears gloves. She said no. Bonny then showed me a rash on her arms and hands. Her hands are red, blistered, chafed and peeling and she hasn’t found anything that will help. They have been in this condition for months.

Bonny is the kind of person who thinks of others – be they animals, humans, or the planet itself before she thinks of herself. She made light of her skin rash, but I was very concerned. The good news is that her afternoon flight that day included marine biologist, Exxon Valdez survivor and toxicologist Riki Ott.

When Riki arrived, the first thing I said to her was, “Please, look at Bonny’s rash and talk to her about it”. You can see a video of Riki in the links on this blog, along with a link to most recent Huffington Post article, where she talks about the risks to public health in the Gulf, and much more. It’s definitely a ‘must read’.

Riki told us that the people washing the clothes of oil cleanup workers have a chemical rash up to their elbows, and the cleanup workers themselves have it up to their knees. And the insurance companies are refusing to pay for treatment, saying that BP is the ‘responsible party’. And of course, BP is calling the rash everything from scabies to staph infections. Every case they can deny responsibility for is dollars in their pocket. It’s criminal.

Also flying that afternoon was Mike Roberts of Louisiana Bayoukeeper. He’s a salt of the earth shrimp fisherman from the heavily afflicted area West of New Orleans. I’ve made arrangements to meet both he and Riki later this week when I drive out through Barataria Bay and Plaquemines Parish to Grand Isle. That’s where local hero Billy Nungesser is from and that’s where the oil is still the worst. I wondered how I’d get out on the water there, I wondered how I would be able to talk with the fishermen and residents out there, and it looks like Mike is my ticket. I look forward to getting to know him and to seeing this disaster through his eyes. He’s one of those guys – when you meet him, you just know that he’s as good as gold.

Samantha Whitcraft from Oceanic Defense and I will be flying with Bonny on August 8th, so stay tuned!

Friday, July 30, 2010

My First Glimpse ~ Something's not Right

It all seemed fine – on the surface. The natural beauty of this area is amazing ~ and what is happening to it is an absolute crime. Most areas are not surprisingly deserted for this time of year. The Casino area of Biloxi is like a ghost town. With the temps hovering around 100 degrees, some people have come down to the beaches, and what did surprise me was the number of people in the water. I walked by two teenage girls splashing and laughing. What can you say? I couldn’t smile, so I just looked down and kept walking. It made me sad to think of what might be in their future from the toxic chemicals in their watery playground.

Near deserted beach in Biloxi
Never having been to Mississippi before, I couldn’t tell if the water appeared normal or not – it looked more like Long Island Sound than the blue Atlantic waters off Florida, but perhaps that's normal. And there was no smell. You’d think that anyone with a pulse would still know not to go in, no matter how high the mercury gets.

Heading West on 90, I found my first cleanup workers in Gulfport. As beautiful as this beach was, there wasn’t a soul on it except myself & the cleanup crews. It was just beautiful powdery white sand cut through with ATV tracks.

I had a bit of trepidation as I was checked out by these men supervising the clean up, but they didn't stop me from speaking to their workers. A friendly smile seemed to go a long way and I wasn’t restricted at all. With the decreasing attention being paid to the whole issue of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and the complete lack of journalists, my guess is that they’re letting their guard down. Not a good idea with folks like me around. Some gray haired ladies are not as harmless as they look.

It’s clear that cleanup operations are scaling back and I believe that it’s a very important time to report from here for that very reason. Things appear to be better, and the Feds and BP want everyone to believe that it is, but you really get the sense that something is not right. It’s too quiet. Parents know that feeling well.

Tonight on CNN, they showed trucks loaded with booms leaving Plaquemine’s Parish and Billy Nungesser and others are reporting that there is still oil coming into the surrounding areas.  Tomorrow I am meeting with NASA pilot Bonny Schumaker who has some very serious questions as to the discrepancies between what she is seeing with her own eyes and what the Feds and BP are claiming to be the truth. It promises to be a very interesting day.
JULY 17, 2010.
Coordinates: 26.07.03N 80.06.21W

My first stop on Mission Blue’s Gulf Expedition was to catch up with Samantha Whitcraft of Oceanic Defense and Mary O’Malley of Shark Savers in Fort Lauderdale. Over the past year, both women have mentored me as I’ve become an ocean activist, making fruitful introductions and offering advice when I’d hit a brick wall. And now, finally we meet! Thanks to Kelly Levendorf of the renowned dive organization, Pro Dive, who welcomed us and provided their facilities to us for the afternoon.

Samantha’s role as Director of Conservation Biology for Oceanic Defense and as Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science puts her in a unique position to share her insights into the far reaching effects of the Gulf blow-out. In this video, she outlines how each of us can channel our feelings of frustration and helplessness into useful actions to save troubled wildlife in our own communities.

Mary O’Malley is a force to be reckoned with in the field of shark conservation. From working with fishermen on changing shark tournaments to catch and release to pushing for local and international regulations that protect sharks, Mary’s approach to shark conservation is multifaceted. Currently, Mary is working to protect the sharks, mantas and mobula rays of Raja Ampat, Indonesia, our blue planet’s center of biodiversity. Please read about what makes it critically important to protect this very special corner of our ocean world here: and add your name to the petition to save these very endangered species in Raja Ampat.

Samantha will be boarding a research vessel later this month to study larval tuna that have come into contact with oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll be meeting her at the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi and we’ll be road tripping it, ‘Thelma and Louise’ style from there. We’re developing quite an itinerary and are really excited about sharing our Gulf discoveries with you on this blog.

Our afternoon culminated with some very well deserved blue marbles being presented to Samantha, Mary and Kelly in recognition of their love for our planet’s blue heart.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dr. Chris Pincetich - Marine Toxicologist on Corexit & the Gulf

Palm Beach Dreamin'

First, I'll visit my home reefs off Palm Beach, Florida.  It's where I learned the magic of the underwater world. This video, taken by David Cowan last week shows what you can see in just one day. Hopeful reports of the loop current being 'pinched off' indicate that perhaps the Keys and the Atlantic Coast might be spared - at least for now. Perhaps there will be a miracle.