Fieldwork – day 3 and 4

WOW….on Thursday, we found out what happens when you know the right people and can say “Tony said…..”.  

Back to the beginning…..Tony is the owner of the property that the Breton Sound Oil Recovery Staging Area is located on.  We were meeting with him at 10:30 to talk about areas on the property where my husband could transplant Irises. 

When we got there, he was in a Hurricane Preparedness meeting  (by the way, the signs said that the base was in “Stormcon 2”), and we were told to wait in the mess tent.  We were told that they serve about 3000 meals each day and the local restaurants are each in charge of a one week stint.  As soon as it was serving time, the workers started lining up to get their food.  It was truly a mix of people, ranging from officers in the various military branches. to engineers, to sailors, to boat captains, to deck hands. 

The meal that was being served consisted of soup, sub sandwich, salad (either small or HUGE), chips, fruit, Oreo cookies and a drink.  Everywhere around the camp there were posted signs reminding people to drink lots of water and to stay hydrated!!!!!

We met with Tony while he ate lunch and he expressed his excitement about the work that Michael is planning to do there.  He told us about a program that he is involved with to replant areas of St. Bernard parish to replace trees and vegetation that were stripped when the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over the area.  He was even more excited when Michael offered to send Iris rhizomes that could be planted as well.

After lunch, he commandeered a 4-wheel drive Mule and took us on a tour of some the land that he owns.  It was such fun watching him point out various areas of his property and to watch his excitement as he talked about the wildlife that is there.  It was very different to get away from the hustle and bustle of the military style encampment!!!!   He and Michael selected an area that could be used for a portion of the Iris transplants._7226418

THEN, he told us of an island in the marsh lands around his property that was also a potential site for transplants in an “affected area”, so he told us to tell one of the public information officers that we needed a boat to visit the island, and …..boom….we had a 35 foot open skiff at our beck and call.  The skipper took us around the marsh lands and finally was able to wind his way to the island.    It was amazing to watch him deftly maneuver 35 feet of boat in a canal that was only 6-8 feet wide!!!!   Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough to get onto the island, but it is a possible site as well. 

This is a map showing exactly where the oil is located  (the blue areas), with the green mark showing where we were.  

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We didn’t see any of the oil, but did see a number of the vessels that were carrying out the booms or bringing them back in.  The boat skipper told us that his job was normally one of transporting the booms, but he had been called back in because of the approaching Tropical Storm.   He also told us that the process of picking up the booms is very slow as they are heavy and slippery and very hard to get into the boat.  Then, once they are returned to the staging area, his entire boat has to be decontaminated before he can go out again.


I loved the name of this boat……the Goo Gobbler

_7226453 This boat is filled with oily booms being returned to the staging area…..

_7226454 These oil tankers were on a couple of barges….not sure why……


Our captain and his wife are both skippers and the boat that we were on (the Ave Maria) was built for Crabbing,  but it was completed just a few days before the oil well blew, so it had never been used for it’s intended purpose!!!  They are not having an easy time at the moment….. 


Here is some of the inter-coastal waterways that are currently under threat.  The oil is just a couple of miles away and who knows where this Tropical Storm will take it.    It will be such a shame to lose these beautiful areas._7226474

Today, we spent the day touring areas of Southern Louisiana and using the GPS to officially map the sites that Michael has been working in for the last 20 years.  It was funny to think of how technology has changed the way we do things… one point we were using a normal map, a Garmin road GPS, a data collection GPS, a digital camera and the internet on my cell phone.  But, I have to say that it sure made it easier to find the places that we needed and, even better, we can push a button and any of Michael’s students will have directions to those sites as well.

We finished up late this afternoon and will head back home tomorrow.  The plan for the drive is for me to type up all of the field notes from the four days….it make take the full 6 hours!!!!

Until next time……

Two days in the life of a Scientist

These past two days I have been the “unpaid field crew” for my husband as he travels to Louisiana in search of oil affected sites.  His National Science Foundation grant is to study the effects of the oil and dispersants on populations of Louisiana Irises.  SO…..we have come down to search out possible field sites.

Yesterday, we left Athens, GA at 5am and headed South.  When we reached Mississippi, Michael wanted to check out a site that one of his students had found several years ago.  So, we left the main highway and started driving along a small road looking for Irises.  We found some and Michael got out of the truck to check them out.  After a few minutes, he called me and said for me to drive the truck down the road to meet him.  WRONG……the truck wouldn’t start!!! 

Thankfully, we had a GPS with us and were able to look for auto repair shops in the area.  The first one that we called said that they didn’t do road service, but that they weren’t busy at the moment and he would send someone out to jump off the battery in case that was the problem.  Thankfully, that was the only thing wrong, so after 1-1/2 hours we were back on the road again.

Our next stop was to travel south along a tiny road that led onto Lake Pontchartrain.   Michael said “lets not go any further because there aren’t any Irises here”, and almost immediately I saw a big clump.  As we went further, we found several more stands along this quarter of a mile section of road.  These aren’t necessarily good for the oil work, but it gave us a chance to learn how to use the new GPS/Data Collection equipment.


While we were on the road, an officer from the Louisiana Wildlife Service drove by and he stopped and talked for a while.  He suggested that we visit the National Wildlife office and told us how to get there.  He also suggested a couple of other sites that we should visit.  Next stop was to the National office where we met a very nice officer who requested a written proposal that could be given to the head person. ….we will see if anything comes out of this contact.

On Wednesday, we headed to the Breton Sound Staging Area which is a huge operation for keeping the oil out of the marshes.  There were Marines, Coast Guard, Local Troopers and hundreds of civilians moving around the post.  We went inside to get a visitor’s badge and were told that I would have to change into long pants before I could enter the area, so we had to drive back about 25 miles to a Walmart so that I could buy a pair of jeans.  

When we returned, we were told that all of the “Big Bosses” were in a “hurricane-preparedness” meeting and we would have to wait.  As we sat there, a woman named Lenore introduced herself and said that she had property not far from this area and that we could possibly use it as a site.  Also, she got us in to see the “Colonel” who is the Deputy Director of the site.  He got straight to the point and we fairly quickly decided that the areas that he was commanding were not the best places to transplant the Irises.  However, he did take us into the command center and showed us some photos of the area.   I am very much the “technophile” and I loved seeing all of the computers, streaming satellite images and other paraphernalia.

The funniest event of the day was that the Colonel was telling us about the “toothpick” cleaning where they use a stream of water to force the oil back out of the marshes.  After  he said “toothpick” several times, one of the techies said “you mean WATERpik”.  Is it really good to question a Colonel…..they may never find the body in all of that marsh land!!!!

As we were leaving, Lenore told us that she could give us the name of the man that owned the property as well.  Michael talked to him and now we are meeting him in the morning!!!!    Who knows what tomorrow will bring!!!