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

Everyone was taking off except me. I had been invited to stay with a forensic psychiatrist who was volunteering at Fort Jackson, so I packed my gear and headed out to the rehab station. I spent the day working with Dr Erica Miller from Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, admitting birds,

sweeping floors, restocking coolers, and generally helping out where ever I could. I learned one heckuva lot! And sweated a lot!

The team there is outstanding. Everyone made me feel so welcome and shared with me their trials and triumphs. I also so saw first hand how interesting being in the bayou could be. I went out the back to for some reason and saw a rather large snake trying to get through the chicken mesh fence. It had obviously eaten and its full belly would not pass through the fence. I called for my colleagues to come and look – this was pretty exciting stuff – and was told it was a non-venomous water snake. Since there are many venomous snakes around, everyone is understandable cautious. I can tell you it makes for a cautious approach to and use of the port-a-potties. The temperature was still over 100F with the humidity.

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.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill – Initial thoughts

As a rehabber, I know the joy and heartbreak involved in caring for wildlife that has come off second best in interactions with us. Oil spills are only one of the assaults to our environment, however, it is one that I have also studied, especially the long term impacts the toxicity of oil has on the avian body. Oil disrupts many essential pathways; impacting pair bonding and breeding behaviours, egg production and producing deformed embryos. I pursued this research for many reasons, but one especially hits close to home. I know we at Le Nichoir may face the results of a spill along our waterways at some time. The last major spill on the St Lawrence was in the late 70’s, so we are overdue!

The team at Le Nichoir are very capable of caring for the few oiled birds we may admit each year. Yes, we use Dawn dish detergent. They come in covered in many types of oil and oily products; cooking oil, tars, diesel, etc. How we could care for the potential of thousands of oiled birds; Canada geese, ducks and herons, is beyond imagination. Let’s hope this remains a possibility only and the seaway remains open, safe for shipping and birds alike.

Day Seven – Lynn’s Oil Spill Blog

I had another day at Fort Jackson planned, but had to stop and photograph the alligators on the way, so cool. Day seven went pretty much as the previous one did, with me helping out where ever I could and talking to the very positive and up beat team that were there (one person had taken a class with me in Palm Desert some 4 years ago!). I decided to leave by 6 pm and return to my lodgings, shower off the copious sweat, and go to the local marina restaurant for supper. I was able to talk to many chaps involved in this whole mess. One is actually manufacturing, as rapidly as they can, anchors for the booms, as they have run out. Also many of the local people are quite dismayed at what is going on, and shared with me what they were doing.

I was leaving in the morning, they were in it for the long haul.

CTV News Story May 30, 2010

CTV News’ Derek Conlon interviews Le Nichoir’s co-founder biologist Lynn Miller as she heads off to the Gulf of Mexico this week to lend her expertise to the clean up of the U.S. oil leak. (May 2010)

View the Video

Read Lynn’s Blog

Seven Goslings Find a New Family

Two weeks ago Le Nichoir received 7 orphan goslings and asked the media to spread the word that we were looking for a family of geese to adopt them. Thanks to many kind readers that called the 7 goslings found a new family (May 2010)

Click for Press Release