This independent TEDx event is operating under license from TED

TEDxOilSpill Expedition

This is a week-long project to document the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico and bring a first hand report back to the TEDxOilSpill event in Washington DC on June 28th. We'll be working on land, air, and maybe even on boat. Our team is composed of several talented photographers and videographers. In addition to documentation of oil on the water and on the beach, we're particularly interested in the human side of the equation and will be talking to some of the people most affected by the catastrophe in the Gulf. We'll also be documenting any and all evidence of media interference by BP, the Coast Guard, or other officials.

Would you like to help fund the TEDxOilSpill Expedition? We’ve heard from a number of people that are interested in helping out on an individual basis and we can definitely use your help. We’re committed to making this a success, but with the speed with which we’ve pulled this together and the costs of chartering seaplanes and the like, our team of five people is taking on some fairly substantial expenses. To give you an idea of what our costs are, our seaplane expenses are going to run north of $500/flight hour.

Any support you’d consider giving-$5 to $50 to $500—will be so very welcome and will be directly used to fund and possibly increase the scope of our activities, including chartering aircraft and boats to get us into the thick of things.

Latest updates from the Expedition:

June 17th, 2010

Darron Asher Collins (now known as Dasher) on Australian Radio

Darron Dasher CollinsFrom a parking lot in the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA I was interviewed by an Australian radio show which just went live.

OK, you may catch that I mention bird “noses” about a third of the way through the program.  I was just making sure you were paying attention and like to anthropomorphize, you know, everything including sea birds.

Check it out here:


June 17th, 2010

Flight Track to the Source

Earlier today, we made our first seaplane flight. Our destination: The Source. That’s what the Deepwater Horizon accident site is now known as to many of the locals who work above the Gulf of Mexico. Duncan took his GPS tracker on the flight and recorded our flight path.

The outbound portion of our flight is the leg north of the Mississippi river. You can see several places where we orbited around points of interest. The first orbit was flying around surface burning. The thick donut of orbits at the lower right is the Deepwater Horizon site. Then we headed to Grand Isle and flew around Barataria Bay before returning back to Southern Aviation’s field.

We’re all still digesting what we saw as we pull files off of our memory cards. The general consensus is that as big as you know this disaster is, seeing it first hand is something that can’t be prepared for.

June 17th, 2010

Planning our Aerial Mission

Today will be the first day we take to the air in a seaplane to document the oil spill from above. Setting this part of the expedition up wasn’t easy. When we first started considering this trip, some charter operators were shying away from carrying photographers. Others were happy to take media people, but could not secure clearance to fly. With the help of a few friends, we worked multiple angles and even considered bringing in a seaplane from Florida. These options didn’t work out for one reason or another, but the network of contacts we built lead us eventually to local operator Southern Seaplane.

Based out of Belle Chasse, Southern Seaplane made it a mission earlier this month to break the impasse. They were tired of hearing “Permission denied” when they wanted to fly people ranging from reporters to politicians to survey the damage inflicted by the spill. So they enlisted the help of one of their senators and eventually managed to break through the logjam. It still requires permission to fly into the restricted areas, but they’re now able to get these permissions and the special squawk codes needed to fly into the TFR areas.

Darron and Duncan plan a route with our pilot, Dickie (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

With their help, we’ve planned out a few aerial missions of our own. The first will be out to the Deepwater Horizon site, sometimes referred to locally as “The Source.” We’ll then come back to the south and range through the wetlands to find both pristine and affected areas for a few hours. We’re going to be flying low—quite a bit lower than many previous aerial photography missions have been able to go. This is going to be one interesting flight.

June 17th, 2010

Our Mobile Workplace

To get from one end of the area affected by the oil spill to the other end requires lots of travel. Grand Isle and Venice are both two and a half hours from New Orleans. It’s a bit over three hours to Gulf Shores Alabama. Staying productive during these road trips is essential as we arrange meetings, keep tabs on the news, and stay in touch with the rest of the team organizing TEDxOilSpill. As we go, well, we certainly do look like a band of geeks.

Geeks in a Car (Photo by Pinar Ozger)

To keep connected, we’re using a Sprint EVDO card in Duncan’s laptop and rebroadcasting internet access using Internet Sharing. If you happen to see the SSID “TEDxOilSpill Mobile Command” show up in your airport menu, look around for a black Nissan Xterra. And smile for the cameras.

June 17th, 2010

Photo Essay: The TEDxOilSpill Expedition Documents Effects of Oil Spill on Communities on The Gulf Coast

Tri-State Fisherfolk Rally in Biloxi, MIssissippi - TEDx Oil Spill Expedition

The recent Oil Spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been on everyone’s mind and media outlets for the past month. Between horrifying photos, misleading information and many failed attempts at stopping the gushing oil well, a growing national frustration has mounted into a direct collective responsibility that something has to be done.

Seagulls gather for rest on dock posts in Dauphin Bay, Alabama - TEDx Oil Spill

A group of environmentally passionate geeks gathered together to organize a TEDxOilSpill that is scheduled to happen in Washington, DC on June 28th. This TED inspired event will bring together the powerful voices that have responded in a call to action over the various facets that amounted to our current oil crisis, including our dependency to fossil fuels, our irresponsibility to our environment and the unregulated parade that is environmental policy.

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June 17th, 2010

Day 3: Note from the Field by Darron Collins


The plan for the morning was to storm the Port Perdido beach before sunrise and before the waste management crews arrived.  It felt a bit like a military operation until we arrived at the water and stood together silently with a few herons watching the waves gently lap the shore.  The heron’s neck is folded when flying but is a more elongated “s” when not.  Standing, the heron contemplated the waves.  Standing, we five contemplated the cleanliness of the beach.  We saw some evidence of oil yesterday afternoon and expected to find the night’s waves and winds to have deposited near shore oil all over the beach.  It didn’t.  Or did it and we just didn’t see it?

Great Blue Heron

Several miles down the beach we saw hundreds of workers poised to attack the sands with rakes and shovels.  We saw tire tracks on the sand from the night crews that worked the beaches.  We saw the Coast Guard helicopters buzzing the shores.  We saw no oil.

Tracks in the Sand, Orange Beach, Alabama

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June 17th, 2010

Hope Sings on the Street

Wednesday evening found us in the French Quarter regrouping after a tough few days. While we were enjoying our beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, we listened to Cleome, a singer who had set up shop in front of the patio and was performing for the tourists. For  a few moments, we put aside discussions of work and allowed ourselves to be just tourists as well.

Cleome singing in the French Quarter (Credit: James Duncan Davidson)

As she sang, we caught this line: “We’ll rise… We’ll rise… Yes, we’ll rise over this oil spill”

Cleome singing in the French Quarter (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

New Orleans has survived more than its fair share of adversity over the years. Loss of the wetlands. Hurricanes. And now the oil spill which may end up overshadowing all the other catastrophes. But as always, there’s a group of people here that are determined to survive.

June 17th, 2010

Memory from the Car by Darron Collins

I can hardly call this a report from the “field” as I thought of writing it up comfortably cornered in the backseat of a Nissan Xterra.  And it’s a memory of yesterday rather than a report from today.  Anyway…meet Captain Dana Naquin.  We met him and his crew under the decks at the Dauphin Island Ferry.  He’s a welder and, born and raised in New Iberia, Louisiana, is as Cajun as they come.  He’s worked the spill for five weeks now and has just about had enough of his temporary life here in lower Alabama.

Dana Naquin, Boat Captain (Photo by Pinar Ozger)

Right below his ANIMAL tat you might be able to make out a lanyard with a handful of cards.  Each is a license of sorts allowing him to do this or that in relation to the spill.  Each is awarded after a certain number of hours of training.  Each represents a marker of rank and a step toward better wages.  Captain Naquin is in this respect something of a four-star general.

“This one,” he tells me, “is from ‘courtesy training.’ It shows that I can keep control over my crew and tells you I know not to swear at people in public. F%$*ing stupid peace of s%#@t.”

June 16th, 2010

Darron Interviewed on New Orleans TV

TEDxOilSpill Expedition team member Darron Collins, a managing director at the World Wildlife Fund, was interviewed today in New Orleans by WWL TV. The interview is focused on the survival chances of oil spill-treated birds, a sensitive topic.

Of particular concern to Darron are the brown pelicans that were just recently removed from the endangered species list. Even though they aren’t on the list anymore, their low numbers suggests that expending the effort to clean and save them is worth it, even if there’s a chance that they won’t survive the treatment.

Darron gave this interview during a meeting that the rest of the expedition team members were having with the Gulf Restoration Network where we learned about the efforts that this group is making. In this meeting, we talked with Casey DeMoss Roberts, Assistant Director of Water Resources, who will be traveling from New Orleans to speak at TEDxOilSpill.

June 16th, 2010

Some of the Challenges We Face

Duncan Davidson reporting from the field: I didn’t expect that this expedition would be easy. In fact, from the moment we started talking about it, I knew it would be challenging in a multitude of ways. This story is a complicated one and affects a large area across several states and a marine ecosystem that we don’t fully understand. To make things more complicated, due to the depth at which the oil is released, the dispersants used, and the currents in the Gulf, there’s no single place to just go to find out what’s going on. The situation changes day to day.

Stained sand beneath the US182 bridge at Port Perdida, Alabama. (Credit: Pinar Ozger)

For example, yesterday we scouted through Mississippi and ended up in Alabama based on reports and photographs of oil on multiple beaches. We did find oil in the water, but we didn’t find massive slicks rolling up on shore. The big slick off of Orange Beach is reported to be 8 or 10 miles off shore. Every so often, the currents will pull a part of the slick off and send it ashore. Fortunately, there are thousands of workers on the beaches ready for it and they’re doing a good job of cleaning the visible oil and tar up. We’ve walked several beaches that are being heavily worked by crews that only have small tar balls and stained sand on them.

Oil in the surf at Perdido Beach in Alabama (Credit: Duncan Davidson)

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June 28, 2010
Washington, DC