Good afternoon. Welcome to the Gulf Recovery blog-a-thon: a three-day series about what we can do to assist the citizens, wildlife and eco-systems of the Gulf Coast. Through diaries on a wide range of subjects –- by an incredible team of writers -- we hope to promote awareness of the continuing crisis caused by the devastating deluge of oil that has overwhelmed the Gulf since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on Tuesday, April 20, nearly four months ago.
Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents have seen their livelihoods, if not their generations-old ways of life, threatened or extinguished. Thousands –- perhaps tens of thousands -- of shorebirds, reptiles, amphibians and marine mammals are dead or suffering. An entire eco-system is in danger.
It would all sound at least marginally hyperbolic, were it not all true.
There is so much to do. And, as a community, we can accomplish so much. Please join us by reading, recommending, commenting -- and by taking action through the links provided.
Here is the incredible schedule of diarists for the series (all times PDST):
Wednesday August 11
3pm Daniel Kessler (Greenpeace)
5pm Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse
6pm Project Gulf Impact
Thursday August 12
4pm Bill McKibben
6pm Project Gulf Impact
Friday August 13
2pm Pam LaPier
4pm Meteor Blades
5pm Laurence Lewis
6pm Project Gulf Impact
Gulf Recovery: Brown Pelicans
My connection with the Gulf Coast is personal: I have lived in small beach towns on its opposite edges, in Pass-a-Grille, Florida and in Port Aransas, Texas. I was drawn to both, in many ways, by the rich privilege of their shore birds: the well-pouched brown and white pelicans, the delicate roseate spoonbills, the long-legged curiosities of egrets and herons, the sprightly terns, bright-billed oyster catchers, stately wood storks -- and the magic of whooping cranes.
The sadness of this spring and summer has been overwhelming:
The damage to the brown pelican population – a species finally removed from the Endangered Species List just nine months ago – has been particularly dramatic. Its members represent nearly 60 percent of the dead and injured birds collected.
(For brown pelicans) the timing of the spill could not have been worse: Pelicans, which nest colonially on offshore barrier islands, were at the start of their annual nesting season when the oil rig exploded in April. . . . (B)etween 25,000 and 33,000 pairs of pelicans breed on islands off the U.S. Gulf Coast; Louisiana alone hosts between 8,000 and 16,000 pairs, depending on the year. . . . On July 14, biologists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported finding at least 300 oiled pelicans on Raccoon Island -- a major rookery -- alone.
Devastation on Raccoon Island
Raccoon Island is a barrier island that's home to the largest shorebird nesting colonies in Louisiana. During a June trip, the Cornell team reported that the region seemed unaffected by oil from the Gulf spill . . . But during a return trip in mid-July, the team encountered "devastation" -- almost all the juvenile brown pelicans previously observed had been oiled to some degree, with roughly 10 percent "badly oiled," according to a Cornell-issued press release.
Since then, the news has only grown worse. As the Times-Picayune reported this week:
(W)ildlife officials are rounding up more oiled birds than ever as fledgling birds get stuck in the residual goo and rescuers make initial visits to rookeries they had avoided disturbing during nesting season.
Before BP plugged the well with a temporary cap on July 15, an average of 37 oiled birds were being collected dead or alive each day. Since then, the figure has nearly doubled to 71 per day, according to a Times-Picayune review of daily wildlife rescue reports.
The number of birds collected on August 9 was 93.
Almost 5,000 oiled birds (more than half of them brown pelicans) have been collected thus far. Nearly 4000 were already dead.
Another blow to brown pelicans, whose resurging populations were noted in a story last November 12, the day after they were removed from the Endangered Species List:
"In many ways, the brown pelican stands as a symbol of our nation's struggle to protect and conserve our wildlife," said Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
He said the bird had made "a long, long steady climb back . . . from the brink of extinction."
Brown pelicans were first imperiled by hunters who prized their feathers. Later, the bird suffered heavily from the effects of the pesticide DDT, sprayed for mosquito control, which weakened pelican eggs so that they cracked prematurely.
The bird appeared poised for removal from the endangered list several years ago, but was set back by Gulf Coast oil spills and habitat destruction from Hurricane Katrina.
Pelican populations in Florida and along the Atlantic Coast were removed from the endangered list in the mid-1980s. Wednesday's announcement remove(d) the entire national population from the list.
The oil spill may change that. The brown pelican's nesting season is just now beginning to wind down. It should end in a few weeks. And as of Friday, July 16, BP ha(d) finally stopped the flow of oil from the well—at least temporarily.
"But there are still millions of gallons of oil floating around out there," notes Mike Parr, a vice president of the American Bird Conservancy who had just returned from a six-day visit to the gulf. "After the breeding season, pelicans start moving around a lot more, and from what we observed, the boom they’re using to keep oil out of critical areas is hopeless. It doesn’t stand up to even moderate weather."
Meanwhile, the region is about to enter peak hurricane season.
Please consider helping the pelicans.
Speak Up for Pelicans by signing this Petition from the National Wildlife Federation.
Adopt a Pelican at the International Bird Rescue Research Center
Contribute to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Donate to the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Oil Spill Restoration Fund