Jenn will be returning to the Gulf of Mexico to continue the coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill August 4-10,
one month after the original trip.
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She will be documenting:
Venice/Fort Jackson/Buras/Grand Isle LOUISIANA,
Long Beach/Gulfport/Biloxi MISSISSIPPI,
Orange Beach/Fort Morgan/Dauphin Island ALABAMA.
By Noelle Leavitt
New Orleans, LA — Hundreds of sea turtles now live in a different world.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill sent them from nesting along the gulf shores, into oil rehabilitation at various locations in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Despite the doom and gloom about what the BP oil spill has done to their natural habitat, the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans prides itself on its care for the endangered species.
The institute has treated 112 sea turtles since the BP oil rig exploded on April 20, and only three of those turtles have died, said Michele Kelley, Audubon Nature Institute‘s stranding coordinator for the state of Louisiana.
“We’ve had a 99 percentile success rate,” Kelley said.
But it’s not been easy. Everyday, Kelley and a rotating crew of around 50 trained workers, look for different remedies to treat and clean sea turtles of the crude oil that pollutes their internal and external organs.
“There is no historical data on how hydrocarbons effect sea turtles,” Kelley said, adding that finding the right treatment is difficult.
“Not only are we doing it, we’re also writing the book on it as we go, and we’re having to test things. We’re constantly changing and trying new things, she said.”
Vegetable oil and mayonnaise are currently the best way to rid turtles of the thick and sticky oil that contaminates their waters in the Gulf.
“You could hang wallpaper with that stuff,” Kelley said of the crude oil.
The oil has engulfed a number of barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico, where many sea turtles nest and live. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with many other organizations, collect oil-effected sea turtles and transport them to the appropriate recovery institute.
“When they come in, we get a photo id on the animals, we get them tagged — when dealing with a hundred turtles, we need to know who’s who. Vets look at the turtles to determine their overall health,” Kelley explained.
After the vets log the health of each turtle, removing the crude oil begins.
“We use vegitable oil to begin with, because oil binds with oil. Water and oil don’t mix, but oil and oil do,” Kelly said. “We pull it off and then we use Dawn (soap). We’ll actually put mayonnaise in their eyes to remove the oil from their eyes, and then open their mouths and swab out oil with mayo in their mouths.”
Next, they soak the turtle down, remove all the vegetable oil and crude oil and begin removing the contaminates from its digestive system.
“We’re using mayo mixed with cod liver oil, and that seems to be binding with the oil in their digestive system, which is what we need,” Kelly said. “The longer they’re exposed to the oil — both on the outside and on the inside — it starts to lead to secondary infections, such as pneumonia.”
Two of the recovered — once oiled and now healthy —
The majority of the sea turtles that have been treated at the New Orleans institute are the Kemp’s Ridley species, which are the smallest marine turtle in the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Guess what, the gulf of mexico is their home,” Kelly said. “Kimp’s Ridley’s are critically endangered, which means there’s less than 5,000 nesting females in the wild — and guess where they nest? The coast of mexico and texas right now.”
The two on display at the massive aquarium in New Orleans, give onlookers an upfront account of a recovered sea turtle.
One of two Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles on display at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. The turtles are two of 112 rescued so far, and cleaned up from oil contamination from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Photo by: Jenn LeBlanc/Iris Photo Agency
Workers use shovels to gather and scoop the orange gooey mousse into plastic bags to be hauled to the local trash dump. Night operations on Long Beach in Long Beach and Pass Christian started July 7, 2010 and this was the third consecutive night of work in the same area. The workers are tired but in good spirits, they are not allowed to speak with us. For us to witness the work we must stay out of their way and enter and exit the containment area through the decon tents. They work hard until someone comes and tells them to stop for a break or a shift change. They keep going, working on the seemingly endless piles of oil that come ashore with the tide.
The oil collected is taken to the local dump. That’s right, it’s going into the Pecan Grove Landfill in Pass Christian, Miss.
Photo by: Jenn LeBlanc/Iris Photo Agency
The ‘sugar sand’ beaches at Fort Morgan used to be white according to one clean-up worker. Fort Morgan is a State Historic site as well as an upscale beach community. One of the interesting aspects of Fort Morgan are the endangered Alabama Beach Mice. They live in small burrows in the sand, and only come out at night. When they dig out the burrow the contrast between the clean sand below and dirty sand above becomes obvious.
The beach mice are endangered due to dissappearing habitat, the effects of the oil spill on their only remaining habitat are, as yet, unknown. The beach in this area is not inundated with the orange oil mousse that we have seen much of in Mississippi, but instead with the black tar balls that the burrows are surrounded with.
Photo by Jenn LeBlanc/Iris Photo Agency
Boom operations in Cotton Bayou and Bayou Saint John. The white boom is called sorbent boom and is dragged behind the boats with pompoms attached that collect any surface oil. The different colors of boom are for different types of water, and use, but every boom has universal attachments so they can be linked without problems, regardless of manufacturer. Vehicles of Opportunity drag boom back and forth across the inlets to different areas to prevent as much contamination into the bayous and harbors as possible. The brown discoloration in the water is not oil but tannins which are eaten by the local fish and important to the habitat.
Photo by: Jenn LeBlanc/Iris Photo Agency
The oil spill has prompted BP to give the state of Alabama $17 million to build a mile-long sand and rock barrier designed to block oil from washing upon the state’s shoreline, according to a BP spokesperson.
The barrier is currently being built on the west end of Dauphin Island, which is a few miles south of Mobile, AL.
Alabama’s Department of Environmental Management is overseeing the project that will be a mile and a quarter in length and 50-feet wide.
Huge-boulder rocks are shipped to Dauphin Island everyday by barges and, after they’re placed in the water, sand is spread over them to create a manmade island, said Henry De La Graza, a BP spokesman.
Dauphin Island has roughly 1,700 people who live there, and each day BP work crews clean the beaches of tar balls.
“We had 800 workers combing the beaches since yesterday,” De La Graza said. “We picked up around 12,000 pounds of tar balls, which is a light day for us.”
A small percentage of the tar balls are recycled, but most of them are shipped to a landfill.
Tourism has taken quite a dip on the Island.
Karl Hoven, who owns Dauphin Island Cheveron and Grill said his business has dipped 75 percent since the oil slick.
“It has slowed down considerably,” he said. “The tourists is what makes us from the middle of March to the end of September. If you don’t make your money then, you have a long hard winter.”
Although tourism has dropped, locals still swam in the oil contaminated waters.
Mobile, AL resident Sheila Clark, her daughter Sara, 13, and friend Jaimee Orrell, 12, visited Dauphin Island July 8. BP clean-up crews combed the beaches while they enjoyed the sunny weather. She wanted to witness what the oil was doing to the beaches first hand.
“All we’re seeing is these little globs right here. We’re not seeing what’s under the water,” Clark said. “Our Mobile industry, so much is seafood and tourism — it’s killing us here. It is on Dauphin Island anyway.
Clark also said she visited the island to spend money, giving what she could to the local economy.
By Noelle Leavitt
Gulfport, MS — Two young Coast Guards from Colorado who are based in Gulfport, have a new whirlwind of experience under their belts from the oil spill.
Mike Svoboda, 20, from Parker, CO, cruises the oily gulf each day to document where the slick is at any given time.
“I’ve actually seen oil out toward the Barrier Islands, which are about six miles off shore. It’s little globs maybe about a couple inches in diameter, and it floats just beneath the water surface, and you can barely see it. And then when we went to Ship Island, which is one of the Barrier Islands, it’s actually all over the beaches.”
It’s the kind of oil nobody wants to touch.
“Sand sticks to it, everything sticks to it,” he said. “I don’t recommend picking it up. It sticks to your fingers real bad. It’s hard to get off.”
Coast Guard Matt Wietbrock, 23, from Westminster, CO has a completely different set of duties.
He answers the phones each day, filtering calls from civilians across the country who have ideas on how to stop the oil leak that’s now in its’ 80th day of gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
“The phones are ringing constantly,” Wietbrock said. “Everyday someone has a new idea of how they can help stop the oil, and some of the people that call in have pretty good ideas, and some of the ideas are just crazy.”
Both men love to snowboard, and daydream of hitting the Colorado ski slopes in the winter.
Svoboda heads home to Colorado on July 9 for a much needed two week vacation.