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Above:  Gulf Shores, Alabama 2009 June
Below:  Pascagoula, Mississippi 2010 June

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Our second trip to the Gulf began in mid-June 2010.  Again we used our faithful plane "Bessie" to fly over and photo-document the Gulf, this time focusing on areas east of the Mississippi and offshore out to 100 nm.  We took the opportunities on this trip to visit with folks from the local bird rescue centers in Fort Jackson, LA (IBRRC).  We also join in a "think-tank" meeting in New Orleans for NGOs and other groups to outline practical large-scale actions that could be taken by the public to help with the rescue, protection, and ensuring survival of the Gulf and its wildlife.

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Bird Rescues 2010 June

So many birds have been saved!  It might be a proverbial drop in the bucket, but as all know who have ever given all their energy to helping life in front of them survive and flourish, it is vital work and heartwarming to see the hundreds and hundreds of pelicans (80%) and egrets, herons, terns, gulls (most of the other 20% so far) whose lives have been saved, who are recovering and are soon to be transported and released.  There are also lots of babies through young juveniles, although so far rescue efforts are aiming primarily at breeding adults who can be rescued to breed again.


Some interesting insights came from some precious hours spent talking with IBRRC folks.
Here are some in a nutshell, and they apply to some extent broadly to other bird and marine mammal rescue centers in areas affected by the Gulf oil spill:

1.  All the equipment, funds, and other infrastructure needed to treat all the oiled birds being found and captured to date are being provided for by BP with almost no delay.  There are no real answer to questions like "What do you guys need most?"  They have or can simply ask for what they need in order to accomplish the rescuing they are equipped to do at these centers.  They'll be moving out of the hurricane evacuation zone in the coming weeks, to a bigger more permanent facility.


2.  The authorities in charge of search, capture, and transport to treatment facilities are the USFWS and LDWF.  Not Tri-State or IBRRC, not BP.  So how does the public sector help?  Unfortunately, the models for successful wildlife rescues after oil spills in other parts of the world, such as South Africa and the penguins affected, do not work well here in the Gulf.  Public-sector wildlife rescue organizations are not tightly connected to the authorized agencies leading wildlife rescue or oil spill cleanup here.  So it's a little like asking how can the public sector can help the government win a war.  You can offer millions of dollars, unlimited equipment and skilled volunteers, but there is no easy way for USFWS or LDWF to accept any of it or use it.  Or so it is at present.  Maybe with good vision and ideas, this challenge can be surmounted, a new paradigm can be established, a new kind of working relationship between the public sector and these government agencies.

 

How can the public help?

On the Larry King Live show recently, we heard that they are raising millions of dollars in donations, to be handled by three organizations including the United Way.  I have no idea what these organizations will do with those funds.  I haven't been able to find a way to GIVE these guys the equivalent of a million dollars and make any big difference in the health or survival prospects of the Gulf wildlife or ocean ecosystem.  Or for that matter any answer for the many people here whose livelihoods are built around fishing and tourism.  I haven't heard Larry King say what the organizations will do either...?

What is a constructive response to this spill for future good?
General lessons are critically important, but anger and blame are neither useful nor productive.     
Yes, spare no precautions and take better ones in the future when it comes to drilling for oil, especially in pristine natural ecosystems. 
Yes, pursue alternative energy solutions that are nontoxic and much less harmful, actually or potentially, to nature. 
Yes, inform and educate the world, especially the younger generations, of the importance of nature, of biodiversity, and of ways to protect and preserve it without becoming reactionary and stopping real progress.
Okay, good general rules.  But how do people and ecosystems both weather the transition from large human populations dependent on oil for livelihoods and way of life, to modest populations living sustainably with healthy ecosystems? 
Well, you can see why these conversations took hours ...! I can't say we came up with all the solutions, but there are some things we all agreed on.  In our own lives, find ways to live those adages we read on almost every trash dumpster -- "reduce, re-use, recycle." It's not deprivation to live less wastefully or to consider the consequences of our actions for several generations ahead (including overpopulating those generations). 
But not everybody can earn a living by saving oiled birds.  So to take that route in order to feel good about what you do every day may be individually satisfying, but it's not a solution for everybody.  Which brings us back to the challenges noted above.  How do we stop and repair the damage from this oil spill?  How do we rescue and protect the ocean ecosystem and marine life whose habitat has been so severely contaminated and is continuing to be ruined?

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Shores of the Chandeleurs Islands

There are many questions to be answered.  We have yet to hear or understand workable ideas for how to stop this gusher, how to neutralize its effects, how to rescue and relocate as much of the wildlife as possible before hurricane season ensures that they are buried in toxic oil, and last but not least, how to put the public sector's help to effective use.
We would like to learn more about why this gusher has not been successfully capped, whether it can be stopped some other way, whether it is flirting with danger to consider digging relief wells to reduce the pressure. 
We would like to learn about whether it is practical to flood the Gulf with oil-eating microbes who would swallow up the crude and leave only harmless waste and still have a sufficiently oxygen-rich ecosystem that marine life could flourish.  And to learn about what other long-term solutions exist not just to clean up this mess but to preserve the Gulf and other natural ecosystems for the foreseeable future while also employing people and providing sufficient energy for legitimate societal needs.  Stay tuned!

This time we flew more easterly, which put us almost due north from the Deepwater Horizon rig; and we flew much farther south off shore (nearly 100 miles).  The weather was good enough that we could fly the entire length of the Chandeleur Islands easily, and we got very good looks at them and the hundreds -- thousands -- of pelicans, egrets, herons, etc. that call them home. 

The sights are similar to what they were several weeks ago, although we saw less evidence of dispersant, and more of the large (Volkswagen-size) floating black blobs of oil, beginning as few as 10 miles off shore.  The immensity of the spill is almost mind-boggling.  You'll see a video taken from the air about a week ago along the shoreline from Gulf Shores, AL eastward to Orange Beach (courtesy of Brian Pierce); and we have still photos from a year ago -- "Before" photos -- of the same area.  The streaks and sheen of oil are everywhere.
Stay tuned for a summary of what we learn next week!

Photos from the Gulf of Mexico 2010 June
Stay tuned for this gallery of photos and videos!