by John Hocevar
August 18, 2010
We’re out in the Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West and hundreds of miles from the BP Horizon site. The weather’s been kind so far, as you can see from the ship’s webcam, which has enabled us to get in three dives a day. Today we saw a goliath grouper the size of a %^@# car.
Seriously, the thing was huge. The chance you could find a fish that size on a Florida reef that wasn’t part of a protected area is pretty much zero. The same basic phenomenon is true of the oceans in general – we have fished out 90% of the world’s large fish.
I saw a lot more dead coral out here than I’d expected, but the reefs in the Tortugas are in far better shape than those in the Keys. There was an impressive diversity of sponges as well. Two scientists from Nova Southeastern University joined us on board for this leg of the expedition, Chuck Messing and Joe Lopez.
Chuck is working on a guide to Florida’s sponges – there are about 200 species, many of which have yet to be named. As Chuck pointed out, the changes he has seen in his 40 years of diving here have been so rapid that we are in danger of losing marine life before we even realize it was ever here.
Joe is looking at sponges as bioindicators. Because sponges can filter thousands of liters of seawater a day, they are a great place to look for oil and dispersants. Fortunately, large quantities of oil have not yet made it to this region, but without studies like these, it would be impossible to assess the full range of potential impacts of even low concentrations of oil.
Today we are wrapping up the first leg of our three month long expedition to assess the scope and impacts of the BP Horizon disaster. Tomorrow, we’ll pick up scientists from Tulane University, who will be looking at the damage the oil spill has done to plankton, the base of the food chain. We’ll also be joined by a researcher from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who will use our helicopter to conduct aerial surveys of marine mammals.
It has only been a few short weeks since oil stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, and we are just beginning to discover how widespread the damage has been. With so much of the research so far being funded by BP and/or locked up as Natural Resource Damage Assessment evidence for future trials, there is a desperate need for independent and transparent research. Stick with us as we work with scientists from more than a dozen universities to look into the true impacts of the BP Horizon disaster – and of our stubborn refusal to shift away from dangerous fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.
For the oceans –