Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One year has passed...

This is going to be a fairly personal entry... It was a year ago today that the Deepwater Horizon exploratory oil rig erupted in flames. This marked the beginning of what may be one of Man's sharpest, most widespread blow to a particular ecosystem - an interconnected, interdependent web of life that is now fractured and failing.

It will take decades before we fully understand the impact that 200,000,000 gallons of crude oil and 2,000,000 gallons of chemical dispersants truly have on life in the Gulf of Mexico - from the microbes and benthos of the sea floor, to the corals and jellies, the fingerlings and fry, the crustaceans and their larvae, the turtles and dolphins, the skimmers, the rails and the fishermen. All one.

The tally of dead or dying animals that have been collected represents a fraction of the actual number of animals killed. It's being estimated that over 80,000 birds perished. How many more could we have saved had we been better prepared - better equipped - and our expertise better utilized?

What Duane and i experienced in the field, searching for and rescuing birds, was inexcusable. Imagine this - if we were put in charge of crews battling the massive wildfires that are currently sweeping across Texas. That's exactly what it was like! We were being given orders and direction from people who had little to no experience in running oiled wildlife field operations or locating and capturing oiled wildlife - and animals suffered because of this. When we stood up to the nonsense, we were forced to pull out, leaving not one person in the field, in Louisiana, with prior oiled wildlife capture experience or training.

The bird rehabilitation program was better, but still weakened by those in charge - high ranking, yes, but lacking knowledge, experience, and wisdom. 

.....................What more can i say?... the situation was grave - the magnitude of the spill was immense, but manageable. What was worse - what was hardest to deal with and hurt our efforts the most, was the crippling from the inside out. 

Just know this - if we'd had leadership within the Unified Command with the necessary skills and experience, or simply the willingness to listen to those who had such knowledge, things would have been very, very different. 

This must never happen again. We must call for change - for whatever it takes - legislation perhaps - that stipulates the role and qualifications of the Wildlife Branch Director. The person who assumes this position must have a level of training and experience that is suited to the magnitude of the spill.


  1. I'm with you guys! I was there and concur in your assessments of those in charge. Small minded people in postion of authority. And don't you believe in a minute that it will change - unless we demand it, incompetence will rein during the next oil spill. And given the increase of deep water drilling permits being issued, there is a good chance it will happen in the Guld again.

  2. The funny thing is (well, not so funny really) is that no one on the 'outside' really knows how bad it was - the management of the wildlife program. That's because only a handful of people in the world know how to manage oiled wildlife response operations on a massive spill - and guess what? - THOSE EXPERTS WERE NOT IN CHARGE!!!!

  3. Are you saying, then, that the IBRRC personnel of the PELICAN 895 film, were incompetent? I understood that there was a mix of feds/state/non-profits, IBRRC-Tri-State along with the OWCN. It seemed to me from what I read that Louisiana was totally unprepared for a spill of this magnitude, surprising given its experience with environmental disasters, well, maybe not so surprising, given the history of the state.

    There needs to be a national dialogue about how to respond in the future, yet with the politics and backbiting in so many wildlife agencies, all struggling for funds, it's hard to think who or what should be in charge. The OWCN would seem to be the logical leader.

  4. Anonymous - i am so sorry you are not sharing your identity... curious.

    No - i am not saying that IBRRC or Tri-State were incompetent - not at all. I am saying these experts should have been placed in higher authority, and they were not. How did that happen? How is it that Jay Holcomb, for example, with his experience of some 40 years and 200 major oil spills - was not asked to oversee wildlife operations?

    As for the OWCN, the program has certainly worked very hard to gain notoriety over the years, often riding on coattails, but until the state/university-based program is guided by experienced oiled wildlife R E H A B I L I T A T O R S, in my opinion, it will lack the wisdom necessary for it to be considered a leader in oiled wildlife response.

  5. Hi,

    I was at the gulf spill also so let me weigh in on this. The groups that were doing the rehab (IBRRC & Tri-state) were very competent, especially IBRRC and its amazing leadership. This is why they are the leaders in the field. In fact they were the only hope and compentency in the spill as seen by many. It was a miracle that they got any birds released with the politics and crap they had to deal with on a daily and nightly basis. It was absurd. IBRRC just focused on getting the birds through the rehab process even when they found out that they were being sabatoged by one person in a powerful position. Why did this happen? They, especially Jay Holcomb, knows their stuff better than anyone in the world and therefore are a threat to insecure small minded people so the sabatoge continued for a long time.

    I have watched IBRRC for years and no one takes the high road in horrible situations and keeps their mind on the birds like their management does, especially Jay. No one will know what it was like to attempt to help these birds while being blocked at every road. It was not BP, it was the management of the spill and many of the local companies and idividuals that were the problem. It was pathetica and rediculous.

    The documentary Saving Pelican 895 is really poinient in that its shows the focus they had on the birds and it left the childish, emotional stuff out. That was smart because its an old story of silly people in charge not being able to do their jobs and then imacting everyone's gallant efforts. That bull#*$% needs to be left out.

  6. Thank you so much for adding your voice. The unrelenting sabotage of our rescue efforts was absurd, indeed.

    As for taking the high road - no one in this field has been under more pressure and sacrificed more than Jay - his pride, even his reputation at times, to keep the focus on saving the lives of the oiled animals and not on fighting off those who would destroy him.

    There is a time and place for silence, granted, but always taking the high road allows such pathetic bullies to become empowered and rewarded for their abusive behavior.

    Saving Pelican 895 beautifully illustrates the dedication and focus of the team, but it fails to tell the whole story. A story that is old, yes, but needs telling one day.