I hate to be the bearer of good news when it comes to the Gulf of Mexico because it upsets so many of my fellow environmentalists still hoping for an oily Armageddon.
But the rest of you might want to call in sick, grab your fishing poles and head out to the northern Gulf.
"The truth is I'd be very surprised if we don't see some state- or world-record fish brought in,'' says John Valentine, a professor of marine sciences and researcher at Dauphin Island SeaLab in Alabama.
Dauphin Island researchers are discovering what appears to be an explosion of sea life out in the Gulf, which they think may be the result of closing it off to fishing for so long after BP's Macondo well blew out in April, spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Valentine says that any negative impact on sea life from the oil may be swamped by the positive impact of the fishing ban. So it may be difficult to measure what damage the oil actually did.
The researchers found a strong crop of juvenile fish in the Alabama marshes, which is particularly good news. They found a small increase in the number of shrimp, and a typical number of crabs. Valentine think there would be more of the crustaceans except that the greater number of fish are snacking on them. Valentine is writing up his findings — and he forwarded me his data.
Researchers also found a whole bunch of tiger sharks, triple the normal number.
"It's absolutely nothing like I guessed,'' Valentine said. "I expected very low fish counts based on everything that was said.''
Another group of researchers from Dauphin Island released a study that tracked oil in the food chain.
Microbes ate it. The carbon then was traced to plankton that ate the microbes.
The plankton are fat, happy and healthy. The microscopic creatures may be detoxifying the oil.
Various health agencies have sampled thousands of shrimp, crabs and fish and have yet to find a contamination problem. Seafood from the Gulf is the safest, most-tested seafood in the world.
So the Gulf is back in business. More than 88,000 square miles had been closed to fishing. That has been reduced to 9,400 square miles around the blown-out BP well.
Louisiana just opened most of its waters to blue-crab harvesting. Despite shrill claims that the tasty little critters were doomed, research indicates they are procreating quite nicely.
"The reality is the very real possibility that the system worked the oil out,'' says William Graham, a lead scientist at Dauphin Island.
He adds that the controversial use of chemical dispersants may have sped up the process by breaking down the oil and making it more readily available to the bacteria.
"Did we dodge a bullet because we were lucky, or because we were good, or because there was no bullet to dodge?'' said Graham. "Maybe it was some of all three. Maybe the system can handle a huge insult like this and recover quickly.''
So where does this leave us?
There still are some oily marshes and waters in Louisiana that have to be cleaned up, either by nature or people. There still is oil to remove from some beaches. This work will go on well into next year.
The search for oil now has turned to the deep Gulf bottom. Scientists recently finished taking sediment samples in a pattern extending out from the well. They haven't been analyzed yet, but it won't surprise anyone if there is oil around the well.
But shrill reports of a massive new oil slick last month turned out to be an algae outbreak. Other expressions of alarm haven't been backed up with data.
In August, for example, researchers from University of South Florida reported finding oil in sediments in a deep canyon about 40 miles southeast of Panama City. They quickly called a press conference — but they have yet to publish any analysis of what they found.
A University of Georgia researcher has blogged about finding oil on the bottom. She also hasn't released any lab results.
This has become a disturbing trend, with some scientists bypassing the standard protocol of producing peer-reviewed research before going public with their results. They just go right to the media before analyzing their data.
And always in the hunt for a good doomsday yarn, the media have been all too eager to accommodate them.
I tend to think this is being driven by all the research money on the table, with scientists behaving more like agenda-driven, attention-grabbing environmentalists. When scientists already are on record with dire predictions for the Gulf, I question their objectivity as much as BP scientists'.
All this isn't to say we're in the clear.
There is the possibility that contaminants have affected sea life in some way we don't know yet. The oil may have killed floating fish larvae. A dying deep-water coral reef has been found near the well. And there obviously will be oil in areas of the deep Gulf bottom.
All these things must be monitored. But all indications are that the Gulf is rebounding nicely.
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun