A tale of two Gulf spills: A research consortium of 17 institutions from 5 countries studying the impacts of oil spills on the Gulf of Mexico.
Location as of 7:34am EDT (11:34 UTC): N 18.9188º, W 94.2364º, Water Temperature: 29.9ºC.
22 September Update (From Shannon O'Leary, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi):
We sampled the deep sights at transect 33 Tuesday. First two sets weren't to exciting, dogfish, lots of wenchmen, a grouper or two and a few snake eels. We did get two large spider crabs, a scalloped hammerhead and we had a bird come hang out a top the Weatherbird flagpole.
We hit the jackpot on the last site (33-150) with 15 tilefish and 15 or so Gulf hake - that means we've caught tilefish in and outside the area potentially affected by the oil spill, similar to the way they've been analyzed in the Northern Gulf. Susan found really high PAHs in their bile (highest ever recorded in a fish if I recall her paper correctly) and now we'll be able to see how that compares to the fish down here.
Today is Amy's birthday, so Thomas disguised the smell of chocolate cake baking in the oven with the shrimp he cooked up for lunch and we managed to keep it all a secret until she came up after her shower. The last station was a long one with that many tilefish getting the full treatment (i.e. Kristina's stuff in addition to all the other samples needed to be taken) and then still needing to work up an additional 15 fish after, so a large piece of chocolate cake was a good way to end the night (I'm still digesting my piece now).
Tomorrow we'll be sampling stations 30-150, 100 and 80.
23 September Update (From Steve Murawski, University of South Florida-College of Marine Science):
Just a quick update after a hectic day of sampling in the Gulf. On Tuesday we made a “touch and go” landing in Ciudad de Carmen, to fuel, take on provisions, and to swap members of the UNAM-ICML science party. Carmen is the jump off point for the Mexican Gulf oil industry, and the commercial docks are full of various oil supply and crew boats of all types, sizes and colors. Very interesting (see pic). The visit was very efficient and our agent did a great job. Unlike Progreso, we had no issue with the port authorities and we were cleared to take on the pilots and leave at 5 pm.
On Tuesday we completed the remainder of the transect closest to Ixtoc and the Exclusion zone. We fished at stations 160, 200 and 300 meters deep. The catches at the shallowest stations were typical of their respective depths, and we saw yellowedge grpuper, snowy grouper, King Snake Eels and a number of small sharks. On the last (300 m) site we hit the jackpot!
There we caught 15 tilefish, and large numbers of gulf hake, making its first appearance on this trip. All together we maxed out sampling of both tilefish and hake. The significance of this catch cannot be overemphasized. We now can compare tilefish in the SE Campeche region near the oil producing area, with a similar catch a couple of days ago in the northern (perhaps unpolluted?) Campeche area.
Also, this species is predominant and highly polluted off the Northern Gulf. So we have the goods to answer the important question straight away….are tilefish equally heavily polluted by PAHs in the entire Gulf or just in the vicinity of DWH?
I have to say that working the transect 31 has produced some exciting information and we are all excited to get the information back to the lab.
I want to mention the sediment sampling we are doing as well. While we have yet to solve the intricacies of the new Danish 4-core sampler, being undeterred, we are using the old reliable Shipek grab to obtain samples from the top few inches of sediment. Brittany from FSU is persistent and becoming an old hand at its use. We obtained for USF duplicate sediment samples for transect 31 so we can do sediment PAHs for that one transect. This includes the three sites in the Exclusion Zone and the three adjacent to it.
Wednesday night we are steaming to a morning rendezvous at station 30-150. I intend to sample for the day at the three deep sites of transect 30 to see if we can sample the deepwater fish complex consistently across the Campeche area. If my theory is right, we should see the tilefish, Southern Hake, and King Snake Eel community as well there which would be very exciting. After spending tomorrow at transect 30 we will steam 120 miles NW to transect 27 and repeat the day sampling on the 25th (Friday). From there it is a 90 mile steam during Friday night to be in Tuxpan on Saturday night.
Morale is great here. Our new Mexican colleagues are integrating into their routines. Being three physical/chemical types I think the fishy stuff is a little out of their comfort zones, but they are good sports and willing to roll up their sleeves and help the greater good. Glad to have them aboard.
One special occasion to report – yesterday was Amy Wallace’s birthday, which was celebrated with a fine layer cake made by Thomas, and personal notes to Amy from all the scientists from this and the last leg.
All from here now…..lets hope the weather (which has been spectacular for the whole trip) continues….