Day Five – Lynn Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog

Up at 5 am. I was given permission to go to Fort Jackson at 8 am – a 2 hour drive away. I arrived and was allowed to sign in and get identification under the auspices of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). I then spent several hours meeting the teams and watching as they went about their jobs. The main intake is pelicans, primarily brown’s, but also the odd white one. The brown pelicans were far more benign than that white one, which launched itself at the side of its cage and snapped its beak every time someone went by. There was a backlog in washing as they had been slammed with intake the previous week, however they are managing to wash between 30 and 40 birds daily, in temperatures that are inhumane to the people. That day the temperature there was approximately 120°F. I watched one chap put his Tyvek suit on, work in admissions for 20 minutes,  hen remove his Tyvek, revealing that all his clothing underneath was wet with sweat. The need to supervise the team members for heat stress is critical, and everyone is charged with looking out for each other. There are coolers with water and Gatorade everywhere. After the morning at the center, I joined the team from HSUS and sat in on meetings with the local parish presidents, Congress member, and Senate, followed by observing the press conference. Most interesting.

Next was a visit to the Marine Turtle Recovery Center at the Audubon Rehab Station. They seem to have a very well organized process in place, and plan on holding these turtles until it is safe to return them to the wild, no matter how long it takes.

We finished the day on Bourbon Street.

Day Four – Lynn Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog

Slept in till 6am. Still hot and humid.

We spent this day out in the helicopter again, flying eastward into Alabama. This is where the reality finally hit me. Flying over Mobile Bay between the land and Dauphin Island you could see extensive oil slicks and sheen. Not so bad in itself until you really looked and saw dolphins swimming in it, it looks so benign from 2000 feet up. That was a very sobering sight. But again the enormity of what this region is facing was brought home to us. We landed for refueling and decided to visit a local beach that had tar balls reported on it. Sure enough there were extensive areas of tar balls and the water was quite turbid. People were still using the beach but not allowed to swim. The laughing gulls were everywhere and in a group of 20 I observed, three were obviously open mouth breathing, not a good sign, and one, as it flew off seemed unsteady. I had observed one bird drinking from a pool of water surrounded by tar balls. The flight back to New Orleans took us along the coast and over Lake Pontchartrain. The sun was going down and there was a haze to the day. We were in Huey helicopter, and all I could think as the sun was reflected off Lake Pontchartrain and our Safety Officers helmet was, my God, Apocalypse Now! We had just seen tar balls over an extensive area of beach, most of it still in the water sunk to the dips in the sand and some areas of oiling on the shoreline itself.

All so sad and very sobering.

Day Three – Lynn Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog

Get up time 2:30 am. Out of the hotel at 3 am to get to the boat. Still hot and humid even at this time of the day.

Today was spent out on the water looking at the problem from the water level into both the marshes and wetland areas, and the again, the enormity of the issue. In every direction there are oil rigs, and boats servicing these structures. In the distance you could see the oil tankers lined up and docking at the offshore centers. Under the water, by watching the sonar, you could see all of the pipeline structures in place as well for moving oil from the wellhead to the processing and shipping sites. We saw one patch of water that may have had suspended oil droplets in it, but up until that evening we had not seen any oil. That changed when we made a visit, after docking, to Grand Isle. This beach had been heavily oiled and was in the process of being cleaned. There is no smell associated with this oil as it has weathered and all the “light ends” have been lost. So essentially it is a tarry substance either coating areas on the beach or in tar balls.

Today I saw up close the marshland and birds. Birds everywhere; snowy egrets, laughing gulls, shore birds, cattle egrets, red-winged blackbirds, boat tailed grackles, frigate birds, pelicans, terns, great blue herons, … it was fantastic with a number of firsts for me.

Bed time: 2 am!!!


Day Two – Lynn Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog

The heat and humidity had not abated at all and we were up early in what was to become the pattern of long days, with early starts, late nights and little sleep. It was mainly all work.

We spent the day in a helicopter surveying the Mississippi Delta region and extensive wetlands. Many attempts at booming were apparent, and many of the levees were closed by riprap. The main impression from this day is the enormity of the task at hand should oil get into this area. All of the areas we flew over were under the tidal surge associated with any hurricane. If oil gets into these sensitive areas, any wildlife caught in it will simply disappear into the huge tracts of green. What a nightmare that would be.

The helicopter, a Huey, also had seen service in Vietnam. I love flying and flying in a helicopter is a special treat. This one had a very special impact as I thought about all those wonderful young men who jumped out of, maybe even this aircraft, and their last sounds heard were the whoop, whoop distinctive Huey sound as their transport lifted off. It was very poignant and I also wondered about the wildlife we were flying over, would this sound also be their last? I tried to focus on the reverse, the whoop, whoop of rescue craft, as you, scared, tired, dirty, were waiting for your transport helicopter to come and retrieve you. Mostly I failed and all I could think about was the enormity of the situation.

Day One – Lynn Miller’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

It was an uneventful trip down to Louisiana, and my first time in New Orleans. The signs of Hurricane Katrina are still everywhere, from the new houses side by side with abandoned wrecks with holes in the roofs from people hacking their way to safer ground on top of their homes. It is hard to imagine that another blow of immense proportions is happening.

Everyone on the team arrived on the Thursday and met at the Maison Dupuy in New Orleans for our first get-together that evening. It was rapidly apparent that Deb Parsons-Drake, Senior Director, HSUS Animal Care Centers had assembled a very special team. Laura Bevan has worked with logistical activities for the HSUS including a great deal of work through Hurricane Katrina. Sharon Young has worked on the Marine mammal issues at many levels. Barry Kellogg, a senior veterinarian from HSUS has extensive training and knowledge of disaster work (another Katrina vet) caring for the nimals and wildlife devastated by these events. Jim Reed is a very knowledgeable habitat biologist. Ed Clark, whom I first met in 1986, is from the Wildlife Center of Virginia and very involved in the rehabilitation of wildlife. It was going to be a privilege to work with these people – I knew I would learn a great deal.

My first impression of New Orleans – HOT!!!! And humid. The thermometer read 93F – add 10 degrees for the humidity – I was dripping every time I stepped outside.