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BP to Everyone: “We Got This!”

June 14, 2010
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I have rescued and rehabilitated wild seabirds, shorebirds and raptors for six years. I have also worked professionally with sea turtles and other marine life. I am certified to respond to marine mammal strandings, and recently acquired two different certifications for dealing with hazardous materials.  Today, I trained with Save Our Seabirds, experts on oiled wildlife, about how to wash birds in Dawn.

So if  or when oil comes to the Keys,  someone like me should be instrumental in the rescue of oiled wildlife, right?

According to many wildlife rehabilitators who live in areas already affected by the BP wildlife apocalypse, I shouldn’t hold my breath.  BP has refused the help of Save our Seabirds, who not only has experience with oil spills but actually has their own mobile oiled animal triage stations. An article on the Best Friend’s Animal Society website interviewed several wildlife facilities in Louisiana, none of whom, as of June 11, have been called upon to aid oiled wildlife.  In fact, they have  been instructed not to treat any oiled birds, but to transport them to Fort Jackson instead.

The wildlife group contracted by BP to handle the rescue effort is Tri State Bird Rescue and Research and their affiliates, International Bird Rescue Research Center.  Turtles head to Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. Make no mistake, all these guys are the bomb-diggity. They are experts in oiled wildlife and right now, they are working long, hot hours to handle an unprecedented ecological disaster.

They also provide  a bit of salve to the wounded reputation of oil giant BP.  People feel better when they see birds being scrubbed and clean turtles swimming in kiddie pools.  Of course, rescuers from the BP- contracted organizations are forced to sign gag orders if they wish to help the animals.

As for the help offered by other wildlife experts and organizations, BP says:  “No thanks. We got this.”  So I guess the rescue is going great, right?

You can see for yourselves on the Deepwater Horizon Response website, where daily reports appear tallying wildlife collected, dead or alive, and how many have been released.

As of June 13, rescuers have collected the following:

725 dead birds.  557 live birds.  40 have been released.

324 dead sea turtles.  63 live sea turtles.  3 have been released.

39 dead marine mammals. 2 live marine mammals. None have been released.

No data is available on how many of the animals died in the days following collection.

Meanwhile, most wildlife experts agree that the numbers of dead animals is significantly higher than reported, because oiled corpses  sink to the ocean floor. Bloggers and journalists (most notably CNN’s Anderson Cooper) blast  the “media blackout” of the afflicted Gulf, complaining that BP attempts to hide the carnage.  Marine Toxicoligist and Huffington Post writer Riki Ott says clean-up workers in Orange County were specifically told by BP not to collect carcasses of oiled birds.

What Cooper (and others) don’t understand is that the media really does get in the way, and wild animals (and wild animal rehabbers) really do get stressed by human activity such as flashbulbs and people speaking loudly into microphones.  Nor can you let just anyone handle oiled wildlife. You can’t have people with good intentions but no experience with wild animals  crashing around in nesting areas grabbing birds, harming both the animals and themselves.

But a Fish and Wildlife Officer who has been to the warehouse where they wash birds in LA told us:  “Volunteers are working 12 hour days.”  Meanwhile, ABC news reports that the hotline set up to take reports of oiled wildlife has occasionally resulted in waits of up to three days before an actual responder arrived.

So why has BP said “No thanks” to qualified paraprofessionals? Because they don’t want to pay ’em? Or because they want as few people as possible to know how bad this spill is for wildlife?  What if a qualified wildlife rescue group who was not hired by BP started rescuing birds?

Some wildlife rescuers have considered doing just that, especially after Fish and Wildlife decided not to intervene in oiled rookeries, potentially wiping out most of a generation of the imperiled brown pelican.  Of course, the fact that such actions may result in loss of the rehabilitator’s license, not to mention heavy fines, has kept rogue wildlife rescuers in check–so far.

Here in the ecologically super-sensitive Florida Keys, pleas for instruction and information have been met with frustrating silence from Tri State and Fish and Wildlife. Everyone understands they are very, very busy, but Tri State only arrives on the scene once oil actually shows up, and some of us feel that is too late to start planning.

In many ways, rescue groups in the Keys have already gone “rogue.”  We took an unsanctioned class in how to wash oiled birds from a group unaffiliated with BP. Though we were told by Fish and Wildlife not to accept any donations of Dawn, tubs or towels for washing birds (BP will provide all that) we collect them anyway. Though everyone is willing to work under Tri State once they arrive, we balk at the idea of calling a hotline in Miami and waiting for help if an oiled birds shows up, say,  in the Dry Tortugas.  We would rather be empowered to act appropriately on our own.

BP’s false-bravado motto “We got this!” seems to hinder every aspect of the clean up. They have not managed to stop the goddamned leak.   Many people do not believe they are using enough scientists, engineers, clean up workers, ships, booms or wildlife rescuers.  Blogger Mac McClelland got an eyeful when she sneaked onto Grande Terre and saw no booms, no tankers, and 30 clean-up workers (all but 3 who were sitting around) on a 5 mile island attempting to clean up oil by laying down paper towels.  She also photographed a dolphin corpse.

Thanks to Dr. Patrick Rice and his grassroots organization, the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition, we in the Keys have been able to have our questions heard and answered by experts with no allegiance to BP. An environmental toxicologist has explained how the Corexit dispersant (banned in other countries) is nearly as toxic to marine life as oil (possibly more so when it comes to coral reefs.)  We have seen an amazing demonstration by a microbiologist from Bioremediation, Inc. who showed us how microbes (dubbed BAADBUGS)  eat oil, do not harm wildlife or the environment and much cheaper than Corexit. However, when his company offered to work with BP, BP said:  “No thanks. We got this!”

I’m starting to thing BP ain’t got this.   BP ain’t got this at all.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 7, 2010 2:45 am

    I really enjoy your blog and I’m glad it exists. ❤ ❤ ❤

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