– originally published on “The Recovery Room” 25 June 2010
My apologies for the extended absence. Much busyness has been afoot. First, I want to touch base with the original goals of my mission down to the Gulf Coast. Then I’ll give an update about what I’m in for next. For those of you who have been following and contributing to my shenanigans from the beginning of this disaster, I would like to explain how I’ve been fulfilling my end of the bargain. Originally, I had thought that I would have a similar role in this spill as I did in the Cosco Busan spill that happened in the San Francisco Bay in 2007. With years of bird handling experience I showed up at the Crodelia, California facility and was immediately accepted as one of the International Bird Rescue Research Center’s (IBRRC) volunteer bird washers. It was hands-on and hard work and it was what I could do to help. This spill, however, is a completely different animal – in many ways.
One of the main differences, in terms of how the response is being run, is that wildlife experts are not being utilized to the extent that they have been in other spills. This travesty is serving to exacerbate two sizable problems. 1) The natural dimension: the ecosystem is suffering from not just the toxin-laden waters but also from the lack of expertise present in the overall response effort. Under qualified workers are causing some problems in the midst of their well intentioned toiling. 2) The human dimension: this is a heartbreaking situation and people feel even more helpless when they know that an army of ready and highly trained workers are still, on day 65 of this disaster, waiting in the wings to be called upon. Don’t get me wrong. I know first hand that the people who ARE working on the wildlife response effort are learning quickly and doing the very best they can under the circumstances. Their efforts and intentions are greatly appreciated but the folks in charge are sadly missing the boat on getting experts involved.
This is why my role turned out to be something completely different than I had originally reported in my blog. Only after being in Louisiana for four or five days, traipsing all over the state, and talking to nearly a hundred people did I realized that I would not be able to set hands on any birds to recover them to their non-oiled selves. At this point I was forced to divert to plan B. That consisted of operating mainly as a journalist while still trying to help out in any biological way that I was able. I can be a slow learner at times, or perhaps I was clinging steadfastly and stubbornly to hopes of achieving plan A.
Being lumped into the “media” category was an educational situation to say the least. I have great respect for journalists that dig deep and get interesting angles on situations, but I realized after several days of being a press monkey, that most of the media coverage was pretty surface level. Why you ask? Because, through no fault of their own, a large percentage of the journalists there didn’t have the background to make a valid, in-depth analysis of the natural dimension of the disaster. This becomes painfully apparent if one spends a little time casting about in the mass media coverage of the spill. It’s a lot of the same information repeated over and over. There are a handful of individuals doing really great things but for the most part the coverage subject matter is pretty obvious.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I ended up volunteering as a scientific observer on several boats. The object of my presence on these boats was to search for and identify oiled birds on the myriad islands in the waters surrounding Grand Isle, LA. That was pretty much the extent of the biology that I was able to be of help with on that trip.
Since my return home I’ve been wrestling with three work possibilities concerning my return to the Gulf Coast:
1) Working for Louisiana State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a crew leader based out of Grand Isle. If you’re not familiar with the location, it’s where all of the worst oil footage and photos are coming from. Pretty much the front line.
2) Working on a bird (pelican I’m assuming) radio telemetry project with Entrix, the environmental consulting firm that has been hired to do the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) for the entire spill. This document will be the main science that dictates the ecosystem restoration and recovery effort.
3) Heading back down as a freelance journalist and biological volunteer to get the word out and do what I can, where I can. Pretty much the same sort of thing that I was doing on my initial visit but this time with a network of people and knowledge backing me up.
I’m still working out the details of this difficult and complicated decision. The matter is definitely open for discussion on here or via e-mail so fire away. I should know more within the next few days and will alert my readers as soon as possible to my next move. Many thanks for reading!