by Rebecca Dmytryk
Fact: Oil and wildlife don't mix.
Mammals, especially marine and aquatic mammals, are greatly impacted by oil, but the impact of oil on birds is tremendous and swift.
A bird's feathers are like shingles on a roof - it's their structure and alignment that keep cold air and water away from the bird's body. The smallest amount of oil can cause feathers to collapse, exposing the bird to the elements and compromising its ability to thermoregulate - to stay warm.
Successful oiled wildlife recovery plans are based on a multitude of factors and the window of opportunity in which to recover birds where they will have the greatest chance of surviving. Every spill is different.
Factors that go into planning include the geography, climate, weather, time of year (nesting; migration), type of oil and degree of oiling, species, age, an individual animal's status and unique behavior, and available resources.
Sixty people I would trust to organize and command oiled wildlife search efforts, correctly identify compromised animals, and execute successful capture plans.
(...perhaps I'm being too generous.)
On Saturday, March 22, a barge carrying about 900,000 gallons of heavy oil collided with a ship in Galveston Bay, spilling close to 170,000 gallons of oil. Oil has been detected 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to a recent report, Houston Audubon Society said they were seeing more and more oiled birds. On Monday, their volunteers documented about 50 oiled birds on Bolivar Flats. On Tuesday, they counted 100 at the sam location, and by Wednesday the number had climbed to about 140.
To date, no one from the country's leading oiled wildlife response organizations - no one with years of oiled wildlife capture experience has been utilized for planning or search and recovery efforts - not even the local experts, Wildlife Center of Texas.
Instead, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is relying on assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and their own staff to find and capture oiled animals.
This is absurd!
Worse, it's not the first time assistance from leading experts has been overlooked... excuse me,... ignored, rejected, even prohibited in a Southern response.
International Bird Rescue and Tri-State are the two major organizations in the country that can professionally manage a response to a major spill. In Texas, Sharon Schmaltz with Wildlife Center of Texas has decades of oiled wildlife recovery experience.
Why are these experts not leading or at the very least advising wildlife recovery efforts in Galveston Bay?
What is it that prevents these experts from being immediately mobilized for any major oil spill in the United States?
Things need to change, now and forever!
Rebecca Dmytryk has been involved in oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation since 1993 and has worked search and recovery efforts on over 35 major oil incidents, including the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf Oil Spill. View her CV HERE.