Meanwhile, scientists from the University of South Florida said Tuesday that they had found evidence that microscopic droplets of oil have collected on the floor of an undersea canyon off the Florida Panhandle that is an important spawning ground for several species of fish. The team discovered unhealthy phytoplankton—which play an important role as part of the foundation of the ocean food web—in the area, blaming oil and dispersants for the damage. The Associated Press, Reuters, McClatchy, and National Geographic covered the findings, noting that while the research results were preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed, they constitute yet another challenge to the rosy picture presented by the federal government.
In a related development, scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announced Thursday that they had discovered a 22-mile-long, 1.2-mile-wide, and 650-foot-high plume of microscopic oil compounds floating in the vicinity of the Macondo well, which was finally capped in mid July [Clarification, 8/20: It is important to note that the Woods Hole team made its measurements from June 19 to 28, before BP capped the well. And while the plume contained relatively high levels of toxins and didn’t appear to be biodegrading quickly, according to a news article by Science’s Richard Kerr, scientists both involved and uninvolved in the study have emphasized that the plume was not as massive as ones seen earlier.]
The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour, the AP, Science. Even The New York Times, in language that seemed to contradict its credulous front-page story about the federal oil budget, reported that the plume, “casts some doubt on recent statements by the federal government that oil in the gulf appears to be dissipating at a brisk clip.” (In related news, on Monday, McClatchy covered a study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that the oil spill still poses threats to human health and seafood safety.)
The health and safety of Gulf seafood was the other big topic of discussion at Thursday’s hearing on Capitol Hill. The upshot of the conversation wasn’t entirely clear at press time, but in Twitter coverage of the event, Markey berated the FDA for not monitoring seafood in oiled areas; Florida State University’s MacDonaled said, “Survival of the Gulf seafood industry requires the survival of seafood;” and Dean Blanchard, the president of Gulf seafood company said his product undergoes an abundance of safety testing. More will undoubtedly roll in on Friday and over the weekend.
Getting all the information that the public needs won’t be easy for journalists, however. On Tuesday, The Daily Beast had a great scoop about fisherman in the Vessels of Opportunity program who were told to keep quiet after finding recently finding more tar balls and oil in the Gulf (one of the fisherman created a YouTube video showing his crew dipping a clean rag into the Gulf three-quarters of a mile off the Mississippi coast and pulling it out a couple minutes later soaked in oil).
In a similar vein, Greenwire ran a troubling story on Thursday about how both federal authorities and BP have been hiring expert scientists to assess oil spill’s impacts on the Gulf, but making them sign non-disclosure agreements in the process.
It’s a frustrating situation, to be sure, but reporters must do their best to continue chipping away at the uncertainty and obfuscation.