The Worst Thing I Ever Saw Underwater (and Why it Matters This Week)

An enormous scar on the bottom of the Bering Sea's Pribolof Canyon at 1,000 feet left by a trawl net leaves a path of destruction miles long, having ripped corals, sponges and everything else in its path from the bottom. (Photo: David E. Guggenheim)

An enormous scar on the bottom of the Bering Sea’s Pribolof Canyon at 1,000 feet left by a trawl net leaves a path of destruction miles long, having ripped corals, sponges and everything else in its path from the bottom. (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

On Friday, August 3rd, 2007, I landed the Deepworker submersible at 1,052 feet in the second largest underwater canyon in the world, Pribilof Canyon in Alaska’s Bering Sea. In the distance, I saw the lights of the other submersible, piloted by Michelle Ridgway.

As we both sat on the bottom conducting life support checks and communicating with the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza above, I peered through the dome and saw something strange. I reported that I had landed on what appeared to be some sort of geologic stratification — unusual layers and grooves of sediment in parallel lines across my path. What in the world was this? We hadn’t seen anything like it. Read more

A Blue Whale Tells Us Why She’s Not Saved…Yet

 

It was a battle cry in the ’60s and ’70s and the earliest Earth Days: “Save the Whales” bumper stickers reflected a burgeoning green movement and deep concern about the decimation of the world’s whale populations. But decades later, do the whales still need saving?

Antarctic fur sea pups play in front of the abandoned Stromness whaling station on South Georgia Island

Antarctic fur sea pups play in front of the abandoned Stromness whaling station on South Georgia Island

For 50 years there has been an international moratorium on whaling. Two years ago, in South Georgia Island in the subantarctic I saw the remains of the Stromness whaling station — where Ernest Shackleton famously first reentered civilization and found rescue for his crew after his ship was lost in the Antarctic. Today, Antarctic fur seal pups frolic among the wreckage. What you can’t see are the immense mountains of whale bones still lying at the bottom of the inlets and bays around South Georgia. It’s a terrible legacy that we should be happy about leaving behind. Read more

Lessons of BP Deepwater Horizon: Unlearned and Now Unleashed in Alaska

Shell's Kulluk platform aground at Stikalidak Island, Alaska

Shell’s Kulluk platform aground at Sitkalidak Island, Alaska (USCG Photo)

Just a short time ago the world was mesmerized by a mile-deep live feed of an unstoppable tempest of brown crude and an unprecedented frenzy of human activity undertaking desperate, inadequate attempts to halt the flow and skim, burn, disperse, and boom the rest. In the countless hearings by Congress and the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that would follow, talk of a cold, distant frontier was unavoidable:  The chilling thought of such a disaster occurring in the Arctic, where remoteness, vastness, heavy weather and unforgiving seas combine to make even simple tasks at sea profoundly more difficult. In the face of the largest oil spill in history, many of us found consolation in that we were finally paying attention to the perils of offshore drilling and these lessons would finally be learned.

What BP Deepwater Horizon illustrated vividly was that civilization’s striking advances in deepwater drilling have far outpaced its ability to clean up should a disaster occur. Perhaps the most chilling of all the Congressional testimony was the revelation by oil company CEOs that the essence of their plan for dealing with a catastrophic oil spill was to not have a catastrophic oil spill. A great idea on paper, but in the real world, an arrogant denial of the limits of technology, human error, and Mother Nature’s merciless power. Read more

Too Much Love for the Fish Everyone Hates

Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthus)

The much-maligned, misunderstood and now treasured “trash fish,” the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthius). Photo: © Boris Pamikov

It was a sadly typical meeting of the Board of Collier County (Florida) Commissioners in the late nineties. As the meeting droned on, I tuned it out and fell into deep concentration, obsessively rewriting now long-forgotten remarks I would deliver to the Commission about conservation in Southwest Florida on behalf of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was president and CEO. Our environmental policy director, Michael Simonik, suddenly elbowed me, “Can you believe this?” he gasped. As I looked up, Commissioner Barbara Berry was on her soapbox delivering a monologue, and like Michael, I was stunned to hear what she was saying. She soared into hyperbole to sing the praises of the land developers, declaring Southwest Florida far better than when she arrived, and with a look of disgust tinged with horror, told us how awful it was before the developers came, with all of these unsightly “tangles” of trees and messy vegetation. Nature run amok. Thank god the developers came along and made Southwest Florida a better place, with the neatly manicured lawns of its gated communities (not to mention highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). But as I gazed around the room, there were heads nodding. And I learned something. Read more

Cuba Offshore Oil Drilling: Why We’re Not Ready

The 53,000-ton the Italian-owned, Chinese-built Scarabeo 9 is a state-of-the-art, semi-submersible ultra-deepwater drilling platform capable of working in up to 12,000 feet of water depth with a 50,000 foot (9.5 miles) drilling depth capacity. The platform has accommodations for full-time support of up to 200 workers. (Source: ?Background on Scarabeo 9? in CubaStandard.com by Jorge Pi?on,)

The 53,000-ton the Italian-owned, Chinese-built Scarabeo 9 is a state-of-the-art, semi-submersible ultra-deepwater drilling platform capable of working in up to 12,000 feet of water depth with a 50,000 foot (9.5 miles) drilling depth capacity. The platform has accommodations for full-time support of up to 200 workers. (Source: “Background on Scarabeo 9” in CubaStandard.com by Jorge Pinon,)

As I write this, a massive offshore oil platform makes its way around the southern tip of the African continent on its journey from Singapore to its final destination within 50 miles of some of our nation’s most environmentally sensitive waters. By year’s end, it will be in operation to drill the first exploratory well more than a mile deep in Cuban waters.

Shortly after Cuba’s discovery of offshore oil more than six years ago, I met with my colleagues at the University of Havana who had just been briefed by the state-run oil company, Cupet (Cubapetroleo). Models predicted that 90 percent of oil from a blowout would be transported northward to the Keys and up along Florida’s East Coast, impacting Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and beyond. The question is, of course, are we ready to deal with such a catastrophe? Read more

VIDEO: Ocean Doctor’s Birthday Message 2011

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Please Support This Important Project

Your tax-deductible contribution will help me reach thousands of students. Thank you!

David E. Guggenheim

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An Expedition Dedicated to Alonso, Whom We Lost Tragically Yesterday

Eduardo Alonso Ramos, 1970-2011

Eduardo Alonso Ramos, 1970-2011

His name is Eduardo Alonso Ramos, but everyone calls him “Alonso.” He and Lachi, also a colleague from the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) were supposed to join me for a final meeting at Havana’s Marina Hemingway yesterday in final preparations for our expedition, which they were planning to be part of.

They never arrived. That’s not unusual here in Cuba. Transportation is often a nightmare. Perhaps his motorcycle broke down. Perhaps he couldn’t get gas. Who knows? I wasn’t worried. Though it was a bit unusual that they never called, even last night.

This morning I learned the tragic truth, and it’s still sinking in. Alonso was filling a SCUBA tank at CIM yesterday afternoon when it exploded, killing him instantly. He was only 41. He leaves a wife, 36, who is pregnant. They buried him this morning. Read more

A Statistically Impossible Plea for Help

 

Vessel "Oliva" breaking apart and spilling oil at Nightingale Island (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

Vessel “Oliva” breaking apart and spilling oil at Nightingale Island (Photo: D. Guggenheim)

EARTH DAY 2011: This isn’t what I had planned to write for Earth Day. But it’s the most important thing I can write today. I write these words with a single, challenging purpose: I need you to care deeply about something. I need you to care about something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. I need you to care so deeply that you choose to help. And to make things even more challenging, what I need you to care about is a place you’ve never heard of and are very unlikely to see in your lifetime, a place that’s such an infinitesimally tiny speck lying quite literally in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, it appears on few maps (and even befuddles Google maps). And unless you’re one of the fewer than 300 people that call Tristan da Cunha home, it will take you at best 5-7 days to get to this airstrip-lacking place even if you dash out the door before finishing this paragraph. Tristan da Cunha is, quite literally, the most remote inhabited island in the world. A sign on the island boasts this factoid, alongside a marker pointing east toward the nearest civilization: 1,511 miles to Cape Town, South Africa. Read more

VIDEO: Dramatic Rescue of Freighter Crew by Prince Albert II Expedition Team, Penguin Rescue (CNN)

Dramatic video shot by Kristine Hannon details the rescue of 12 crew members aboard the bulk carrier, “Oliva,” on March 17, 2011, where it grounded the prior day. Within hours of the successful rescue, the ship broke in two and sunk, unleashing a massive oil spill, threatening millions of seabirds including the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. Read more

VIDEO: Oil Slick Threatens Endangered Penguins (CNN International)

Dr. David E. Guggenheim, the “Ocean Doctor,” is interviewed about the tragic oil spill at Nightingale Island and rescue operations to save the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. Read more