Unprecedented destruction in the deep Gulf of Mexico, The Ocean Cleanup’s River Pivot, and More! Weekly Salvage: October 28, 2019.

Transcript below.


We’re back in the deep Gulf of Mexico thanks to the scientists at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Despite unprecedented environmental devastation, monitoring ended at the site of the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in 2014. But just because the companies responsible for the destruction of the deep seafloor were done with their efforts to understand just how much harm they had caused, that doesn’t mean the disaster was over. 

In 2017, LUMCON scientists, led by Drs. Cliff Nunnely and Craig McClain, returned to the site to understand just how extensive the changes to the seafloor were. Last week, in conjunction with their recent research paper they released high resolution video highlighting just how much the deep Gulf of Mexico has changed since the spill. 

Near the wellhead, sea cucumbers, glass sponges, whip corals, and the magnificent giant deep-sea isopod, animals common to the seafloor, were absent leaving what Craig McClain describes as a homogeneous wasteland dominated by shrimps and crabs, many of which showed atypical behavior and clear physical defects. The hard substrate around the wreckage was devoid of the colonizers typically found wherever precious hard structure is present in the deep Gulf of Mexico.

It clear that the relatively short mandated monitoring following the Deepwater Horizon accident was woefully insufficient. Extractive industries working in the deep sea should do well to remember that recovery in the deep sea is a generational commitment. 

Dr. McClain conclude that “In an ecosystem that measures longevity in centuries and millennia the impact of 4 million barrels of oil constitutes a crisis of epic proportions.”


The sixth Our Ocean conference was held in Oslo, Norway last week. Governments, corporations, and NGOs met to discuss commitments to protect our oceans, including a focus on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction and a renewed call for strong, representative protection for 30% of ocean ecosystems

Speaking of protected areas, a live Vaquita, the rarest marine mammal in the ocean, was spotted inside the federally protected Vaquita Refuge in the Gulf of California. Also spotted in the 150 square kilometer refuge were dozens of illegal gillnet fishers, the main cause of the Vaquita’s decline. 

Break out the belaying pins. New research reveals that giant clams spread their photosynthetic symbionts through their feces. Belaying Pins? Because of The Story of Reuben Clamzo and His Strange Daughter in the Key of A. It’s a clam shanty. 

The North Carolina Outer Banks are full of technically invasive wild horses that everyone just decided were cool. A fence designed to keep them out of the town of Corolla had to come down, because it was also trapping fish. So it was basically a gill net. And yes, horses can swim. 

More and more research demonstrates that the way to push back against the global extinction crisis is to leave wild places untouched and help damaged ecosystems return to their natural state. Loss of earth’s remaining terrestrial wilderness could double the current rate of biodiversity loss

Engine Room

Just weeks after its new boom system received extensive criticism from the scientific community, The Ocean Cleanup has made a major operational pivot, announcing an entirely new collecting system to capture plastic in rivers before it reaches the sea. Which, to be clear, is the approach that almost every expert critical of the Ocean Cleanup’s open ocean system has been encouraging them to explore for the last 6 years.

 It’s kind of unfortunate that they burned so much support and drove away ocean scientists earnestly trying to help them improve just to end up right back where we started. 

Except, of course, the Ocean Cleanup Interceptor now has to play catchup with the proven river cleaning systems that have been deployed around the world. Six years ago, MrTrashwheel was launched in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and this absolute delight of engineering and community development has been happily churning through garbage as it flows out the Jones Falls river. 

As the first scalable solution for collecting plastic before it enters the ocean, Mr. Trashwheel and the Trashwheel family have proven themselves more comprehensively than any other existing solution, and the four Trashwheels have been deployed on 2 coasts, as the program continues to expand. It’s great that organizations like the Ocean Cleanup are finally following MrTrashwheel’s lead and investing in ocean solutions that do good without causing harm. 

And it doesn’t even have a wheel. Seems like a lost opportunity for a gyre pun. 

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