After searching for information and volunteer opportunities, I realized that the hardest part of working the largest offshore spill in U.S. history, is the unknown.They don’t know exactly how much oil has actually been released into the Gulf, or where exactly it will go.
The spill has occurred at a critical time for the nesting shorebirds and seabirds on Breton National Wildlife Refuge, which is composed of a chain of islands and is still recovering from the impacts of the 2005 hurricane season and other weather events, so protecting birds and their nests is mission-critical.
Brown pelicans are highly susceptible to oil spills. Their breeding, roosting and foraging sites are often close to shipping channels with heavy commercial traffic, harbors containing refineries or storage facilities, and offshore oil wells. Oil can thus harm pelicans at each of their life stages, from feeding and roosting to breeding and chick-rearing. Already, brown pelicans have been found coasted in oil from Deepwater Horizon spill.
Sperm whales, which can weigh up to 60 tons and reach 60 feet in length, reside year-round in the Gulf of Mexico. Their strong attraction to specific areas for breeding and feeding may override any tendency for them to avoid noxious oil, and several whales have already been spotted swimming through oily, contaminated waters.
The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida’s Atlantic coast are home to five species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley. All are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig poses several additional threats to the already precarious existence of these rare creatures. Unfortunately there’s not a lot that mere mortals can do.
If you don’t have the opportunity to volunteer and put your hands on, at least try to be conscious about where you live and do something towards the environment:
- Never discard fishing line, tackle and other lines and plastic substances that might entangle or be consumed by brown pelicans. Carefully pick up any discarded line you see and dispose in an appropriate container.
- Report pelicans that are injured by collisions with power lines and other structures to a certified animal care facility.
- Support designation of marine sanctuaries and other marine protected areas where sperm whales and other marine life are buffered from disturbances caused by shipping and industrial development.
- Urge your elected officials to pass comprehensive climate change legislation that addresses the impacts of global warming on wildlife and our natural resources.
- If you live on or near the Florida coast, sign up for Neighbors ensuring Sea Turtle Survival (NeSTS) at www.turtlenests.org to help protect sea turtles and their nesting areas.
- If you live near a beach, turn off outside lights at night. Sea turtle hatchlings use light to find their way to the water.
- Reduce the amount of garbage you produce and clean up trash you see on the beach.
- Reduce your use of chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides that can wash from gardens and lawns into coastal waters, harming plants and animals.