Massive stretches of weathered oil spotted in Gulf of Mexico

Bob Marshall|The Times-Picayune

Just three days after the U.S. Coast Guard admiral in charge of the BP oil spill cleanup declared little recoverable surface oil remained in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana fishers Friday found miles-long strings of weathered oil floating toward fragile marshes on the Mississippi River delta.

The discovery, which comes as millions of birds begin moving toward the region in the fall migration, gave ammunition to groups that have insisted the government has overstated clean-up progress, and could force reclosure of key fishing areas only recently reopened.

The oil was sighted in West Bay, which covers approximately 35 square miles of open water between Southwest Pass, the main shipping channel of the river, and Tiger Pass near Venice. Boat captains working the BP clean-up effort said they have been reporting large areas of surface oil off the delta for more than a week but have seen little response from BP or the Coast Guard, which is in charge of the clean-up. The captains said most of their sightings have occurred during stretches of calm weather, similar to what the area has experienced most of this week.

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Story Update:

Coast Guard says substance found floating in Gulf is algae, not oil

By Bob Marshall | The Times-Picayune

A Coast Guard official said Saturday the orange substance floating in miles-wide areas of West Bay on the Mississippi River delta appears to be algae, not oil as reported Saturday morning by The Times-Picayune.

Lt. Cmdr. Chris O’Neil said a Coast Guard pollution investigator has collected samples near the mouth of Tiger Pass and, while those samples need to be tested in a lab, “based on his observation and what he sees in the sample jars, he believes that to be an algal bloom.

Last August large red algae blooms were confirmed on the Mississippi River delta as well as in Breton and Chandeleur sounds.

LSU researchers said such large blooms are not unusual along the Louisiana coast from spring through fall if the nutrient-rich water flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River becomes warm enough.

However, boat captains working in the BP oil spill response team who first reported the sightings as oil said Saturday they were not convinced by the Coast Guard’s initial assessment.

“I’ve never seen algae that looked orange, that was sticky, smelled like oil and that stuck to the boat and had to be cleaned off with solvent,” said one captain, who like the others wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing their BP contracts. “I’ll wait for the lab reports. In fact, we’re also sending some samples off.”

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