By Brenda Shoss,
I recently returned from a week in the Gulf. I'd traveled to New Orleans with my husband and son to attend Hurricane Katrina's 5-Year Reunion for animal rescuers -- but also to join Kinship Circle volunteers in oil polluted areas as part of the ALL EYES ON THE GULF Expedition, with filmmaker Tom McPhee and his World Animal Awareness Society.
Oil doesn't make headlines these days, so the crisis is resolved? Well, not if you're an animal in oil-impacted areas off Terrebonne Parish and Grand Isle, Louisiana. Theories abound about long-term repercussions. For locals like Plaquemines Parish Coastal Director PJ Hahn, the crisis is now: "We've found so many dead hermit crabs -- it's unbelievable," PJ tells us. "This week alone, we had hundreds of starfish wash up along Pass Chaland."
In fact, spotters and government wildlife handlers can only recently walk on islands that had been covered in eggs during nesting season. Stomping around would have caused more harm than good. But the delay may mean more dead animals are found than live oiled ones.
I like to see things with my own eyeballs. So on 8/27/10 I left Chauvin, LA in a chartered boat to explore coastal islands in Terrebonne Bay. With storm clouds overhead, our crew saw a few BP boom boats head inland. We veered south to Raccoon Island, one of Louisiana's largest rookeries. At the Gulf side of Coon Point, we saw hundreds of pelicans aligned with choreographic precision. Terns, gulls, plovers and skimmers also inhabited a linear stretch of sand and grass. Most preened, fished, fluttered. Bird stuff.
One pelican looked weird. He flapped chaotically, yet couldn't rise from shallow water. He tried to preen, stopping and starting robotically without much success. We noticed his feathers separated into dark clumps, a telltale sign of old oil. I tried to report this bird to BP Houma Command Center Hotline for oiled or dead wildlife, but our phones were dead amid rising storm swells. We huddled under ponchos, pelted sideways with hard rain.
After a roller-coaster ride, I called in the oiled pelican and prayed that Fish & Wildlife agents would pick him up...
Then, as we circled Raccoon Point, the silhouette of a dolphin emerged in the surf. Her fins stood vertical and still. One boat crew member swam ashore to verify the dolphin's death. At 3:57pm, I called in the dolphin's GPS coordinates. Government wildlife agents are supposed to necropsy dead animals to determine damage attributed to oil...
Shockingly, over nine days after I reported this dolphin -- local wildlife photographer Darlene Eschete found the same animal rotting off Raccoon Island, with Louisiana Fish & Wildlife initials spray-painted on her side. READ DARLENE'S FOLLOWUP VISIT: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-488860
When Darlene returned to Raccoon Point, she saw "a dead laughing gull. Then another and another... We counted 16 dead birds in all, but I am sure there were many more. All in bad decomposing stages -- mostly just feathers and bones." http://www.bayoubellephotography.com
This is one excerpt in time. The stories continue. You can follow them here: http://www.kinshipcircle.org/gulf_spill/2010-06-notes.html
Bottom line? We need funding for our volunteers and contributors to reach these animals alive or dead. We need to keep the story open. Headlines and priorities have shifted...but the Gulf oil disaster isn't over.