The report, entitled “Gulf Oil Spill: Field Survey Report and Recommendations,” provides a series of five key recommendations for birds – ranging from the use of boom to habitat restoration – related to cleanup efforts surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The report is based on a just-completed week-long field assessment by ABC staff, who observed oil impacts and cleaning operations from Louisiana through Mississippi to Dauphin Island, Alabama. As part of the overview, ABC staff toured affected areas by boat with local and federal officials and charter boat captains. With Coast Guard officials, they also undertook an aerial over-flight of the spill area and points northwest of that location.
“Restoration needs to start as soon as major coastal oiling has been effectively addressed. The Gulf doesn’t have the decades it took to resolve the legal wrangling that followed the Exxon Valdez spill. The hydrology of the Mississippi Delta and the surrounding area is already facing dire threats from climate change, erosion, and hurricanes. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes we made in Alaska twenty years ago,” said ABC Vice President and report author Mike Parr.
The specific recommendations contained in the report address:
- The use of more effective boom to protect bird colonies. Numerous instances were observed where boom was in complete disarray, including being washed up on shore.
- The employment of better fencing and other measures to protect sensitive beach nesting areas and to reduce disturbance to birds. Clean-up crews were clearly unaware in several instances of the negative impacts they were causing to birds and their habitat.
- The deployment of adequately sized and equipped oil skimmers close to the coast with improved real-time oil reports to eliminate oil before it reaches the beaches and marshlands. ABC observed an instance of a substantial heavy oil slick about half a mile offshore while cleanup vessels were operating in very mildly oiled waters about one mile away – apparently unaware.
- The creation of a staging and recovery area for heavily oiled birds close to the coast. With the moving of the existing facility to a location about 70 miles away, some sort of near-shore facility is needed.
- The restoration of eroded island habitat for nesting birds. Breton Island, for example, is a fraction of its original size, is an important bird habitat and is in desperate need of rebuilding.
“Clearly, this is an unprecedented spill that has brought massive, well-intentioned efforts to the area – more than 3,000 boats and 30,000 people are involved. Our recommendations, while not comprehensive, reflect first-hand observations and are intended to make those efforts rapidly more effective, especially in light of the fact that fall bird migration is just around the corner,” Parr added.
During their survey, ABC staff observed oiled birds at several locations. The report presents a list of the observed oiled bird species.
“Without question, I think the unqualified bright spot of the cleanup effort was the bird cleaning center in Fort Jackson. It was gratifying to see that part of the cleanup is being carried out very effectively. The staff of the International Bird Rescue Research Center seemed totally committed, but most importantly, birds are being saved. During one of our boat surveys with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, our vessel captured a clearly sick and oiled juvenile Roseate Spoonbill, and had it sent to the Center for treatment. Two days later, they brought out the bird for us to see and it looked clean and alert – much improved from the feeble state that allowed it to be simply picked up by hand off an oil boom 48 hours earlier,” Parr said.