Deepwater Horizon: There and Back and There and Back and There and Back and There Again…

Hello, my name is Mike and I am a fallen blogger…. I am told admitting this is the first step in recovery.

Clearly, my hope to keep folks in the loop after a brief hiatus fell drastically short. At the risk of a almost comical understatement, much has occurred in the OMTU since the last post of July 2nd. I have started this post many, many times since that date, but so much was (and is still) happening at the time, it was difficult to launch back in – the phrase “drinking from a fire hydrant” leaps to mind. That, and to be perfectly candid, I was so mentally and emotionally drained after those first 73 days on the spill, following a single coherent thought was proving challenging.

So, I delayed…and delayed…and delayed. I told myself that, as the wildlife information coming out of the Unified Command had finally caught up with the operational activities, that my efforts weren’t as needed. That the media attention to the wildlife efforts had spun up such that most of the general public knew what was going on in the wildlife centers. That I had saturated my own market by daily posts. That sunspots would likely destroy the earth anyway right after drafting a poignant yet pithy entry, so it was more efficient to not complete my blog…..the justifications were endless.

So, I will try and get folks spun back up on the trials and tribulations of the OMTU over the past 2.5 months (gasp!).  However, to start from the beginning would tax the blog server in the length of this post, so I will try and give everyone some of the key highlights of what has gone on over this period in several different posts. This will include blogs detailing the current status of the OMTU, an overview of the turtle nest relocation program, the observer program (for skimming and controlled burns), the on-water capture program, and the current downscaling efforts for the response.

First, as the post title indicates, I have been back and forth quite a bit over this time (and United now loves me as a consequence). I have been back to Louisiana 9-18 July, 23-31 July, 11-21 Sep, and 22 Sep to now (yes, I went back to Davis for approximately 15 hrs on the 22nd for the honor of speaking at the UCD Convocation). Not to say the times I was not there I didn’t stay in the loop – I tended to lurk on the daily OMTU conference calls as well as help remotely w/ data compilation and reporting.  We have continued to rotate excellent folks through Houma and Mobile, attending to ongoing logistical needs for the facilities, capture efforts, continued modifications to protocols, reporting to all branches of the government, dodging some curveballs and hitting others out of the park (and, yes, getting beaned by a few as well) – generally continuing to do the amazing work that the folks here in the Southeast region have been doing since the beginning.

At the risk of giving away the plot for upcoming blog entries, our animal numbers exploded since last we spoke.  From 20 April to 2 July, we had collected 156 live turtles (104 of which were not visibly oiled) and 356 dead. After that date (and in fact, after the well was capped on 15 July), the numbers of live oiled turtles collected increased significantly – 377 additional live turtles, of which 352 were oiled and 268 of which were captured in a 2-week period between 26 Jul and 8 Aug (see the chart below – click on it to enlarge).

Again, at the risk of serious understatement, this tested our system pretty extensively, necessitating us to rapidly increase capacities at our FL and LA facilities, bring additional folks in to help on animal care, activate secondary facilities in FL to take de-oiled turtles, and to make plans for expansion of capture activities.

All in all, I feel the OMTU performed magnificently – the facility folks at Audubon, IMMS, Gulf World and Gulfarium tirelessly took in, processed and cared for the animals; the field teams primarily from FL FWC, Inwater Research, Riverhead Foundation and NOAA scoured weedlines and convergence zones (to be described more later – stay tuned) to get to affected turtles as quickly as possible; secondary facilities at Disney Living Seas Sea World Orlando, Mote Marine Lab, Clearwater Aquarium and Florida Aquarium cleared their decks to allow cleaned turtles to be transported there for final rehab before release; and the Command Post staff (Houma, Mobile and off-site management staff) busted their collective rear to make sure the operational staff had what they needed to continue field and facility efforts.

I am very, very proud to be part of this massive effort, and remained amazed of all we have accomplished over the past 150+ days of response. I am also absolutely ecstatic that, to date, we have only had 13 mortalities among the 533 live turtles captured during this event – a 97.5% survival percentage to date! – and have released 316 of these turtles. In the coming blog posts, I will try and convey some of the more difficult issues we have had to grapple with over the past several months, but I think there should be no question as to whether this effort has been a success! More to come, so stay tuned…

– Mike (newly reformed blogger)

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