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Team Departs: Real Work Begins

HSUS oil assessment team leaves the Gulf Coast to prepare next steps

The Humane Society of the United States

  • The color of caution: orange booms line beaches along the Gulf Coast. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Workers prepare to lay boom. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Globules of oil have found their way to beaches in four Gulf Coast states. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • A once innocent scene, now a foreboding one. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Laura Bevan

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Our tour of the Gulf Coast completed, most members of The Humane Society of the United States’ oil spill assessment team have headed home. After four hectic days of traveling by air, boat and car to visit beaches, marshes and the deepwater of the Gulf, the real work is about to begin. Now everything we experienced has to be assimilated into our respective banks of knowledge, churned out as individual recommendations and then merged into one final assessment report. 

On our final day, we were able to visit the bird recovery station in Fort Jackson, La. where the International Bird Rescue Research Center has the task of receiving the oiled birds mostly from the hard hit Barataria Bay. The heat is oppressive, especially for workers who deal directly with the oiled birds and who must wear protective clothing to keep the oil from getting on their skin. It is a meticulous process to de-oil and wash the birds time and time again, but the only way to free them from the sludge.

More than 500 birds, mostly pelicans, have been rescued and brought to the center; unknown numbers are out in the restricted area awaiting rescue—or who may become new victims. Once clean, many will be taken to the east coast of Florida to be released, with the hope that nature will not compel them to find their way back to their home and back into the oil.

At the Audubon Nature Institute we visited outside of New Orleans, sea turtles are being saved. About 60 turtles of all types are going through a similar cleaning process and more come in each day. Unlike the birds, the sea turtles will be held indefinitely because instinct will drive them to return to their homes no matter how far away they are taken.

Both wildlife recovery operations are impressive and have plans to expand. As new oil continues to gush out of the broken pipe, and the existing oil continues to spread and be moved by gulf currents to new beaches and wildlands, the demand for these facilities is sure to increase.

Similar wildlife recovery centers are found across the northern Gulf Coast and more will be needed in coming weeks. But those centers are dealing with just a fraction of the animals most visibly impacted by the oil; they can do nothing for the smaller sea creatures and larger ecosystems on which life in the Gulf Coast depends. Without these elements so critical for survival, the birds, turtles and other rescued wildlife will have little or nothing left of a home to which they can ever return.

Laura Bevan is director of the eastern regional office for The HSUS. She has been with the organization since 1987 and is known for her extensive experience in working natural disasters, starting with Hurricane Andrew in 1992. She has responded and helped direct animal relief efforts in numerous hurricanes, wildfires and floods.

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