Tanner's Follow-up on the Gulf Coast 8.2.10

Hello, again!


I'm here for an update on how the summer's going!  If you'll recall, I managed to bag an adventurous job this summer at the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, MS, photo-documenting research and educational excursions for the Summer Field Program (if you do not in fact recall, you can read all about it at http://blogs.olin.edu/pgp/2010/06/tanner-up-close-and-personal-on-the-gulf-coast.html


Unfortunately, my summer dream job has been foiled by this:

Tanner_1.jpgOil from a hole in the ground about 120 miles south of where I live. 


So, as you would imagine, as soon as oil entered the Mississippi Sound (the stretch of water between the MS coastline and the Barrier Islands), the Summer Field Program had to make some changes.  With waters closed, boat trips were cancelled and this past month has basically been played by ear.  The lab has permits to go into closed waters, but frequent trips into oil slicks would require painstaking cleaning of boats, hazmat training for students, etc. 


This left me doing A LOT of deskwork.  Don't get me wrong, I like editing photos, designing publications, and working on a promotional video for the program;  but after a month of four days on a boat on the water and one day in the office, life isn't feeling quite so adventurous.  However, I have gotten the opportunity to take three or four trips to Florida, where students sample in clean coastal habitats.  Here, I had the opportunity to climb over hills FULL of fiddler crabs, warn snorkelers of approaching alligators, swim in one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the country, cross an underground river, and sit for 7 hours crammed in a van with fourteen students and half of my rear off of the seat.  You take the good with the bad! :)


Anyways, at the time of my last blog, I had only ever encountered tar balls once in Pensacola.  This month, however, I have seen enough tar balls to last me a while - most of it on the islands and some on the beaches.  Beyond the obvious implications, the oil has really gotten in the way of research here at lab.  It seems like things are constantly getting shuffled to accommodate for oil plumes and damaged marine life.  The other day, we left on a trip to Santa Rosa Island (Pensacola, FL), and had to spend the day in the back marshes sampling because of oil washing onto shore in the waves.  It's crazy to stand on the beach with loads of equipment and looking at rolling waves that are not clear, but instead are dark brown, thick, and foamy, alongside ready BP cleanup workers waiting for it all to wash in. 

 Tanner_jpg This is one of many oil booms set up around protected waters in an attempt to stop oil from spreading.  Clearly, they have sometimes proven to be mildly ineffective; the oil sometimes just washes over them.  


Tanner_3.jpgThis is an example of tar balls on the beach.  All of those black dots are spots of tar, and when you're walking on an uninhabited island's beaches, it's important to step carefully, because they look so much like natural rocks or chips of word or just dark sediment.  


The BP-atmosphere here is very prevalent.  Every new development gets talked about non-stop on the radio and in casual conversation.  Everyone knows someone who has a job with BP and is excited to know exactly what's going on that no one else has heard yet.  I wouldn't say people are angry at the company as much as they are angry at how long it took for cleanup efforts to really get underway.  In other words, many of us are still filling up with BP.  On the bright side, though, I have lots of friends who now have jobs with BP's water or coastal cleanup groups. My brother-in-law, in fact, works for BP as well.


So, in a nutshell, this was certainly a unique summer to return home, and I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to adventure around the gulf for my first month home, and hopefully, with a (hopefully) plugged well and clean waters, the next month will be just as exciting.   



Shrimp boats!  At the beginning of the summer, we'd boat out super early in the morning, and see these commercial shrimping boats pull single-file out of the Biloxi Bay like elementary school children walking to the library.  It's really funny to see such giant ships, one-by-one filing from shore to horizon starting out the day.  The fact that we're starting to see them is good news for the economy, for local business, for fishermen, for roadside shrimp stands, and for shrimp-lovers!



Chunks of oil that wash up and mix with sand.  These chunks will sometimes get far enough on shore to get mixed up in coastal grasses.  This is a problem because, to clean up, they generally scoop up oil and sand in a shovel, but if you scoop up these grasses, sand will wash away and the islands that protect the coast from hurricanes will erode.



I've been to centers where animals (like turtles, birds, and even a dolphin) have been cleaned and in rehabilitation before being released, but every now and then we'll come across something like this, a critter who didn't make it.  They're pretty rare (on the shore at least), though, so it's not too depressing!



On a much lighter note, Dad and I are working on another project this summer after hours.  Dad promised me that we could fix up this car since 2nd grade, and we're finally finishing it so I can drive up to Olin!  "An ordinary car," you might say?


"NO!" says I!


It's a 1981 Special Edition, Turbo-charged, T-top Trans Am!  And it is going to be FANTASTIC.  We've finished all the body work, painting, pinstriping, decaling ('81 Trans Ams have more pinstripes and decals than you can shake a stick at, by the way), and trimming, and now we're working on the interior and some light motor work before September. 


The best part? 


We just put the bird on the hood a week ago.




You wanna talk about school spirit?  Let's talk about permanently mounting your school's mascot on the hood of your car.


I am so jazzed!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Suzanne Alcott published on August 20, 2010 12:10 PM.

Midnight Bakery - Sam & Hannah's Story was the previous entry in this blog.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage - Alex's summer experience is the next entry in this blog.

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