A Trip Through the Mississippi River Delta Basin by Marc Yaggi, Deputy Director, Waterkeeper Alliance

On Thursday, November 18, I ventured out into the far reaches of the Mississippi River Delta Basin and the Gulf of Mexico with Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper’s (LMRK) Paul Orr, Michael Orr, and Jeffrey Dubinsky.  We wanted to catch shrimp, oysters, crabs, and fish from waters around the Basin’s South Pass, East Bay, and Southwest Pass that we could send for lab analysis.  Testing would eventually determine whether or not the organisms we captured were contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons or polyaromatic hydrocarbons from BP’s Macondo oil well.

Venice Landfill, Venice, LouisianaPaul and his team had already collected mussels, oysters, and soil samples that were high in total petroleum hydrocarbons on previous trips.  As Paul noted, “[w]e had some soil samples that were off the charts for petroleum hydrocarbons, but those don’t resonate with the public; it is the seafood you eat that gets their attention.”  
 
We arrived in Venice, Louisiana, around 10:30 AM.  At the boat launch, we were greeted with the sight of the Venice Landfill located on top of a marsh.
 
 
After casting off, we travelled down part of the Basin’s Southwest Pass where we dropped a crab pot filled with everyone’s favorite – potted meat!
 
 
After placing the pot, we returned to our starting point at Head of Passes and then turned down South Pass. After a time, and without catching much, we found our way into West Bay.  Finally, we had some luck catching a couple shrimp with a casting net (expertly handled by Michael Orr). East Bay also taught me what the LMRK team meant when they told me that the Delta could teach a person what happens when the oil and gas industry and the fishing industry collide.
 
First, we had some luck catching a couple shrimp with the casting net, expertly employed by Michael Orr.
 
 
The Graveyard of Oil and Gas Industry Responsibility—that’s what I called the travesty I saw in West Bay.  There are few people that actually get to experience it.  The Graveyard is a vast expanse of water where hundreds of oil and gas industry derelicts litter the Gulf landscape.  Those hulks sit, day after day, rusting and invading our public trust waters.
 
Oil and gas industry derelicts in West Bay.
Closeup of an abandoned oil rig in West Bay.
 
It’s shocking that we’ve cut corners on environmental safety measures and let the oil and gas industry plunder OUR public trust waters.  We’ve let them litter our landscapes without accountability.
 
 
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper Paul Orr and a captured mullet.As we cruised through the Graveyard—sighting shrimp boats off in the distance—we caught our crabs. They were hanging out in a patch of invasive water hyacinth.  We followed up the crab with a haul of mullet thanks to Michael’s casting net, but since most people don’t eat mullet from the Mississippi, we moved on in search of other fish.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We finally caught a nice little fish, rescued an “abandoned” Shell Oil bucket at the beginning of our trip up the Southwest pass.  As the day got short, we started back to Venice.  A spectacular sunset was beginning and one of the most interesting sights was seeing a pair of coyote on a sliver of land.  We saw cows in similar locations earlier in the day; we had no idea how any of these animals got there.
 
 
We picked up our (unfortunately) empty crab pot and raced the sunset back to Venice, arriving in darkness.  
 
Returning to the dock at sunset in Venice. LA.It was a day to remember both for the incredible scenery and for the frustration caused by witnessing the oil and gas industry’s unfettered destruction of our public resources.   Very few people ever go down to the end of the Mississippi and to be there with Jeffrey, Michael, and Paul was an amazing treat.
 
With the conclusion of this trip, LMRK has collected samples in all the main passes of the Mississippi River Delta Basin.
 
For more information about this trip or the work, see LMRK’s post at http://www.lmrk.org/issues/bp-s-deep-water-drilling-disaster/ 
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