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August 21, 2010

Tiny Planes and Tar Balls

I’m here in steamy Gulfport, Mississippi helping out with our expedition in the Gulf of Mexico. The second largest city in Mississippi, Gulfport was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has taken an environmental and economic hit from the oil spill.

Yesterday I went up in a spotter plane to try and spot whale sharks. If we caught sight of one, we planned to radio to our boat, the Latitude, and let the crew know where the sharks were so they could tag them.

Unfortunately, we had to turn back to the airport before spotting anything – except some abandoned oil boom and a few dolphins — because the clouds began to look ominous, and the pilot didn’t want to risk getting caught in a thunderstorm (nor did I). It was quite a treat to be up in a four-seater plane looking over the vast network of wetlands and tributaries that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

This morning I went for a walk on the Gulfport beach and encountered several oil clean-up workers in orange vests. “We’re looking for tar balls,” they said. They showed me their spoils for the morning, a few black lumps in a bucket. I stuck my nose in and sure enough – I got a whiff of burnt oil.

Meanwhile, I saw several kids practicing with a skimboard, and a handful of sun worshippers enjoying the August day.

Here are a few snapshots I took:

The spotter planes are going up today and tomorrow, and hopefully they will be more fruitful than our first flight. Stay tuned!