A Yankee Oceanographer in the Bayou

Tankers in the Gul

Tanker ships at dusk in the Gulf of Mexico near Sabine Pass.

The purpose of this blog is to convey our science to as wide an audience as possible. I think I can speak for all of my colleagues when I say that we really like what we do and we have fun doing it. But that the information we gather is often confined to our peer group, through conference presentations, reports, and peer-reviewed journal publications. Perhaps more than that, those of us who contribute to this blog do so because we enjoy this type of writing, which is different from the other types of communication I just mentioned. And communication is the key to the advancement of science; if you no one knows what you accomplished, it will never increase our understanding. Here I hope to share the everyday stories about how science is done along with the stories that come out of the data. But periodically I will take a step back from the science and write a bit about related topics that strike me. Which brings us to my first impressions of this part of the world.

Until a few months ago when I attended a meeting in New Orleans, I’d never been to the Gulf Coast. I’ve written a paper about the data from down here but hadn’t come myself. If you’ve been following our blog you’ll know our lab group has been at sea quite a bit this summer already, but when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance. I think that while not critical, it often really helps to see data being collected if you are writing a paper about it, and since I’ve already worked up quite a bit of data from the Gulf it was high time I came here to see it for myself.

My early feeling about this place is one of complete fascination. It is so very different from the placed I’ve lived and spent time in my life. Our travels began in New Orleans. The architecture of New Orleans was mesmerizing: the colors of the houses and their trim, the iron work, the detail in the eaves, the slate sidewalks. I’ve only had a chance to see a bit of the French Quarter, but it has piqued my interest and I hope to get back there sometime to explore more of the city. It is vibrant, diverse, and busy. We spent a not-too-late night out listening to some jazz and enjoying some local fare, then got up and had some beignets before heading South to Cocodrie, where the RV Pelican docks. In contrast to NOLA, this part of the world came across as quiet and flat, with more water than land, and more land than people. The road to Cocodrie followed a canal, and I think I could have measured the distance from the top of the road to the top of the water with a foot-long ruler. Shrimp boats of all sizes were tied up to piers and bulkheads all along the road. Having flown in from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I thought I knew flat and low lying land, but this was flat on another level.

Shrimp boats with oil booms

Shrimp boats with oil booms hung on them.

Nearly every structure was up on stilts, and the prow of the largest shrimp boats seemed to be taller than our 12-passenger van. Looking out over the marsh, it’s complex network of canals was apparent, simply from the various boats moving around in what looked like a prairie of marsh grass extending to the horizon.

The stamp of the oil spill and recovery effort was apparent as well. We tried three restaurants before we found one that was open to the public; the others were contracted out to support the people working on various aspects of the oil spill. The picture above was taken from the moving van on the way home from lunch, and shows a marina full of shrimp boats, with oil booms strung across their rigging.

We didn’t have a chance to interact with too many local folks in our day before departure, but those that we did speak with (restaurant staff and a few patrons during lunch and dinner) were exceedingly friendly and open. I wasn’t sure what to expect, particularly in a place whose people have been hit so hard over the last five years, but I had heard folks down here were friendly and that was reinforced repeatedly. And the people we talked to were not just polite, they were genuinely interested in our stories and what we were doing here, as well as sharing their stories with us.

Speaking of stories, some of our colleagues have a competing blog, which you can read here. Well, it’s not really competing, but I think at the end of this cruise I’ll put up a poll to see which blog is preferred by our readers. I have no doubt about the outcome (which is why I have no qualms about sharing the address), so go check it out and see what the “fish acoustics” folks are up to these days.

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About planktoneer

I'm a zooplankton ecologist who studies how individual behaviors and variability affect populations of copepods in marine and estuarine systems.
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One Response to A Yankee Oceanographer in the Bayou

  1. Liz says:

    All sounds well including functioning equipment. We are awaiting Earl who is a diminishing threat as I am sure you are seeing.
    The blog continues to have an engaging and informative style. Good Work.

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