Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A 10-Year Personal Reflection

Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning on 21 April 2010 / AP

As OWCN responders, I am sure everyone is aware by now that today, 20 April, marks the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the start of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) that went uncontrolled for more than 80 days. There are a number of excellent pieces on the history and sheer scale of the operation (several of which I will link below), but I wanted to give a personal story to try and give a bit more color to at least my little corner of the incident.

I was one of the many who watched in horror at the early phase of the accident – the rig up in flames, the workers who lost their lives – and then watched as the released oil rose to the surface and made its way toward the Louisiana coastline. As one of the writers of the 2007 Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), I was quickly brought into the loop on marine mammal and sea turtle issues – in an environment where 30 different species of mammals and 4 of 5 species of turtles were at significant risk. I also reached out directly to BP and International Bird Rescue, as key partners for us in California, and offered the assistance of the OWCN if needed. Rhonda Murgatroyd, acting Wildlife Branch Director for the BP operations and Dr. Teri Rowles, program coordinator for NMFS’ stranding program, both asked me to fly to Louisiana on 27 April to lend assistance for the mammal and turtle effort (as Tri-State Bird Rescue had been mobilized to lead the bird effort). Thus started a 5-month, 9-round-trip, 1300-work-hour operational response for me, but little did I know it would also end up occupying much of the following 10 years in broader preparedness activities!

Mike Ziccardi at DWH

Mike Ziccardi at the DWH Incident Command Post

After arriving at the Houma, LA incident command post (or ICP), one of the first things I was asked to focus on was working with NMFS staff to identify existing personnel and facilities in the region, make recommendations to what might be needed if the spill required a large-scale rehabilitation effort (recall that the oil stayed off shore for more than two weeks), and to implement the existing protocols to address the effort. Each of those tasks ended up being enormous undertakings. First, no one could predict how large the spill could end up being, so the entire GoM was considered at risk (later that was expanded to Cuba and the Atlantic seaboard, but that’s another story…) and plans had to be developed from Texas to Florida. Next, while excellent facilities and personnel exist in key areas around the Gulf, facilities had not been developed specifically with oil containment in mind. Third, amazing responders and rehabilitators operated from these facilities, but none had the required 24-hour OSHA training necessary to enter a “hot zone” before the event, and volunteers had been expressly forbidden to work in the effort. Last, but certainly not least, the protocols that Dr. Shawn Johnson and I had worked hard on in the mid-2000’s had been based on the current state of knowledge for oiled wildlife care – namely impacts and protocols related to pinnipeds and sea otters, with little detailing cetaceans (and none involving sea turtles). So just a few challenges…

Exam on juvenile sea turtle

As the spill evolved, the Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle (MM/ST) Unit tried to stay one (or more) steps ahead of the “curveballs” that were thrown at us daily. Amazing collaborators and scientists from NOAA (such as Teri Rowles, Sarah Wilkin, Trevor Spradlin, and many others on the mammal side; Barbara Schroeder, Sara McNulty, Alexis Gutierrez, and many more on the turtle side; and Lavonne Hull and a tremendous support team from UCD) took turns rotating into the ICP to work with me to support the management effort, while the key stranding coordinators and scientific staff solved the problems in real time in the field. When very few oiled turtles arrived on the beach in the first two weeks, plans were quickly made to travel more than 100 miles offshore to start combing the oiled sargassum for juvenile animals at risk (complete with aerial assistance to allow for efficient searches). When dead bottlenose dolphins began stranding in large numbers in remote locations, large-scale recovery efforts were mounted to be able to bring the carcasses back so that full post-mortem examinations could be undertaken. When it became clear the scope and breadth of the impacted region, key facilities from the Texas-Louisiana border through to the panhandle of Florida were revamped to accommodate oiled dolphins and turtles (and later expanded appreciably once animals arrived). Additionally, stand-by facilities for oiled cetaceans and turtles were identified in areas outside of that geographical limit, additional sites were found to accommodate oiled manatees should they be captured, and secondary facilities were found that could take de-oiled animals if needed to free up space at the primary sites. When large-scale controlled burns were initiated, an outcry from the general public regarding the potential of animals to be caught in the “burn box” ended up in a rapid, comprehensive, and collaborative approach to survey each and every potential burn site before igniting it. These, and the daily sourcing of caffeine (the subject of which became one of my favorite blog posts during this response) were just a few of the daily challenges that we met and conquered during the response.

Oiled Dolphin During DWH / NOAA

Oiled dolphin collected during DWH / NOAA

One of the most memorable things for me personally, aside from trying hard to do what we could for all of the animals at risk, was the public thirst for information on the spill. Because of the sheer scale of the event (with more than 47,000 people working on it at its largest effort), getting key information into the public sphere on the wildlife effort was difficult. With operations spread between four different Sectors (each of which had an ICP that reported to a Unified Area Command), enumerating the impacts to animals accurately was critical – especially in the face of images of heavily-oiled pelicans in the daily press. There were even reports of “black van” and “black boat” operations that prowled at night to collect oiled marine mammals and dispose of them to hide evidence! While we were delivering information to the Unified Command daily related to mammals and turtles, early in the response those data were held close – which ended up translating into little information being released on the overall wildlife effort. To try and do a small part to alleviate this dearth of info, I turned to the OWCN Blog (yes, this blog site) to try and get at least a bit of information out there on the MM/ST planning and response efforts; no numbers, mind you, but some information pertaining to what was being done to benefit those animals at risk. The LAST thing I wanted to do each night was to head back to the La Quinta Inn after a 14-hr shift and wax philosophic, but I felt it my responsibility to try and get SOME info into the public arena to answer the questions of what was being done, and by whom. Aside from some particular literary embellishments (such as comparing the spill at one point to the Sword of Damocles), the blog landed well – and in fact led to additional media interest that then led to the ability to get good messaging out on the wildlife effort. Which leads me to the key point of this section: sharing correct information on excellent work is a critical part of emergency response. While I abhor being in the spotlight, either you control your message, or someone else will control it for you.

NOAA National Guidelines

NOAA National Guidelines

Ultimately, the well was killed after 87 days of uncontrolled release (and several unsuccessful attempts of stemming the flow). However, the work was far from over at that point. Some absolutely amazing work was started or continued: Lori Schwacke’s work investigating the chronic effects of oil exposure on coastal bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA and Brian Stacy’s continued efforts to fully document the effects in sea turtles and dolphins collected dead during the response to name just two. The response also resulted in an increased effort at an international level by the oil industry to better prepare for, and mitigate the effects of, oil spills, leading to the formation of the IPIECA – International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) Joint Industry Project. The IPIECA-IOGP JIP have focused on 24 key areas of recognized preparedness need for industry – one of which is oiled wildlife preparedness (and has led to the funding and support for the Global Oiled Wildlife Response Service, or GOWRS, Project, of which the OWCN is a proud member). Closer to home, the conclusion of the Deepwater Horizon incident has led to an increased effort by NOAA to better prepare for oil spill responses that may impact either marine mammals or sea turtles. The OWCN (primarily myself and Dr. Greg Frankfurter, with oversight Dr. Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) have helped formulate revised National Guidelines for marine mammal response, inclusive of “lessons-learned” from cetaceans and response actions during this incident. We have also focused on more regional-specific details through Regional Plans and Operational Annexes in each of the NMFS stranding response regions to identify key risk areas/species and available resources. Last, we have been conducting trainings (both operational and OSHA-mandated activities) in most of the regions to ensure the lack of trained and knowledgeable personnel will not hamper responses moving forward. So some tangible “silver linings” have definitely emerged from this disaster.

Washing an adult turtle during DWH

In looking back at this event, it makes me realize that all long-time oil spill responders tell stories of “the big one” – whether that is Exxon Valdez 30 years ago, Treasure 20 years ago, or even Deepwater Horizon 10 years ago. Each and every incident have pearls of knowledge buried within, and it is the responsibility of dedicated responders to unearth them to make things better for the animals (and people) who are involved in the future. While I have been personally disappointed in the lack of legislative motion following this event (as compared to that following the Exxon Valdez incident 30 years ago), I am pleased that we as a community dedicated to the welfare of wildlife have done so much in these 10 years to improve our processes to truly embrace the “best achievable capture and care” mandate that is the OWCN mission.

Mike Ziccardi in the One Day out of the ICP!

Mike Ziccardi in his one day out of the ICP!

And, as our previous Volunteer Coordinator Kaiti used to say, you are at 1688 words, so enough already! And if you read to this point, you CLEARLY are either really bored or appreciate my particular bent as to writing, so please feel free to relive 2010 with me in the archives of my blogs linked below.

Take care, and please stay safe in these uncertain times.



Additional links to Deepwater Horizon response stories:

OWCN Blog – My personnel reflections beginning from Day 1, and continuing…

NOAA Fisheries – Restoring the Gulf: 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

National Audubon Society – Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

IPIECA – Macondo 10 Years On (Macondo being another name for the Deepwater Horizon incident)

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – A Decade Later: Advances in Oil Spill Science Since Deepwater Horizon





Learning From the Past

Recently we had the opportunity to necropsy birds that were released from evidence from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. You may be thinking; “Wait! He can’t mean Deepwater Horizon! That spill was 9 years ago!”  You’d be right to think that. However, it’s true. A little comparative pathology policy for you:

With marine mammals, all animals that are found dead or that die during an oiled wildlife event are necropsied. Pathologists are brought on early in the spill, samples are collected, and assessments are made regarding cause of death, impacts from disease, and effects of oil.  This is to provide evidence and guide treatment of animals impacted by the spill.

In the past, oiled birds during declared spills were not necropsied without specific dispensation from the Unified Command (UC) to do so. Instead any carcass was considered dead from oil, and immediately became evidence. By legal standards, an oiled bird is considered a dead bird. Those of us that work in the field, and anyone who’s read the research (see the references below) know that isn’t necessarily the case. The upside of this policy is a reduction in the up-front costs and logistics of hiring staff and setting up necropsy areas. The downside impacts however are much greater; there is a lot we can learn from carcasses. This information can guide rehabilitation and help us to understand and reduce impacts on animals in the wild. How much and what depends a lot on the condition of the animals when we get them.

If we are able to examine animals after they first die, we can find out the most about them. Fresh tissues give us the best chance to look for signs of disease exposure and infection, understand the physiological impacts of oil, assess injuries, and see the impacts of oil. If tissues are stored for a long time or frozen, they become harder to evaluate. Subsequent changes in microscopic structure of tissues introduces artifacts and reduces our ability to determine what changes are associated with disease or injury versus storage and post-mortem breakdown. Over time freezing and drying will cause the breakdown of bacteria, viruses, parasites, proteins, and other complex molecules. This decreases our ability to detect these important players in health and disease.

The goal of this recent work was to try and evaluate what we can learn from carcasses collected or stored under less than ideal conditions. The OWCN and OSPR along with a great group of dedicated volunteers necropsied over 100 animals including clapper rails, least terns, sanderling, Northern gannets, and other species impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. We collected tissues and samples to start to answer the question of what we can learn from these animals, and how we can use that information to help the animals we care for in the future.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thankfully, our access to carcasses and our ability to evaluate them may be changing. During a meeting last week between the OSPR and the OWCN, we started to look into the possibilities of getting earlier access to carcasses, and even to do necropsies immediately once animals die. Generally, the opinion was that we have valuable information for research and animal care. Changing this paradigm would be a boon for rehabilitators and researchers alike, leading to a better understanding of the impacts of oil, the health of wild birds, and our ability to care for these animals.

I also wanted to take a moment to thank a lot of people who helped with this effort. There are a lot of logistics, equipment, and time required for a project like this. Thank you to Mike Ziccardi and Laird Henkel for moving this project along and providing the resources to make it happen. Thanks to all the fantastic prosectors from SPCA for Monterey County, Monterey Bay Aquarium and the MWVCRC for their assistance. Melissa Miller, OSPR Pathologist was (as always) a tremendous resource and a wealth of information. And extra thanks to Corrine Gibble for sorting samples, helping organize data, and generally keeping the project moving and on track.

– Greg Frankfurter


A holiday message from the ghost of oil spills past



In many of our training materials we talk about looking for the silver lining in the aftermath of a spill. Silver linings can be many things. For one spill it might be new methods to care for oiled wildlife, while for another it might be new legislation to increase prevention and preparedness. The Deepwater Horizon was a huge spill with many negative impacts – some of which we are still learning about. At least one of the silver linings from that disaster has been the array of scientific studies that have been done to measure impacts to wildlife, the environment and to the people who responded.

The wildlife response spanned coastal and offshore areas from Louisiana to Florida and included many of us from OWCN Member Organizations as well as from OSPR and CDFW. Eight years after the event, studies continue to be published and two came out recently that I read with interest and I feel are important to share. I share them not to scare anyone, but simply to remind us that the chemical products we work around during spills are hazardous materials, and that oil spills are traumatic events that can impact our mental health as well.  The OWCN and OSPR both work very hard to ensure the safety of our responders, providing required training and annual refreshers, safety officers, safety protocols and provided PPE during response but ultimately it is up to each of us to keep ourselves informed and safe.

Both of these papers are part of the GULF Study (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) and a detailed discussion of both are well beyond the scope of an OWCN blog. I hope you will take a look at both of them and read them completely if you are so inclined.

One looks at mental health indicators associated with oil spill response workers including some working with wildlife and can be found here.

The second looks at lung function and association with oil spill response and clean-up work roles and found an impact in those handling oily plants/wildlife or dead animals. A summary can be found here.

As with anything else you read on the internet please do so critically. Neither of these focused on what we consider “professional” oiled wildlife responders like many of you are with the training and experience to identify the hazards and recognize how to mitigate them. I present them simply in an effort to help you stay on the cutting edge of health and safety in oiled wildlife response.

While this may not be a typical “Happy holidays” type of message, the health and safety of all of our responders (and their families) comes into true focus at this time of year. Please enjoy a safe holiday season!


DWH in the News

BP issued a press release this week stating that its active cleanup efforts in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida were now complete.  In Louisiana, there are still over 100 miles of shoreline that are still being cleaned or monitored.  Despite the end of the active cleanup in some states, BP remains responsible for removing any oil from the Macondo well that may wash up in the future.  You can read the press release here.

While this may be a significant milestone as we pass the third anniversary of the spill, not all the news is good.  The National Wildlife Federation has released a report that details some of the ongoing issues in the Gulf, some of which may be related to the DWH spill.  The whole report can be found here, but some of the main concerns are continuing high mortality of dolphins and sea turtles, damaged coral, and negative impacts to killifish, an important baitfish.  We don’t know for sure if these problems are a direct result of the oil, but many researchers are actively working to better understand the role that oil plays in the function of these organisms.

Fortunately, shrimp and brown pelicans are two species that, according to the National Wildlife Federation report, are doing well in the Gulf.  If we want that to continue, however, we’ll need to commit resources to large scale habitat restoration, especially the coastal wetlands.  Let’s hope that the public remembers and the political will remains to develop and implement long-term, sustainable restoration projects on our Gulf coast.


Jam-Packed Week in the World of Wildlife!

Hello all-

Wow!  What a busy week for wildlife issues and events – some good and some not so much. To keep this blog post at Kaiti-approved length (for those of you who are old like me and remember our former Volunteer Coordinator-turned-ecolawyer), here are the highlights:


Deepwater Horizon Spill (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Apr 20th = 3rd year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Spill. It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since that event rocked the oil spill world. Efforts are still underway to understand the impacts to the Gulf of Mexico from this blowout, with some info just now being released on marine mammal issues (see below). On the readiness side, the OWCN is finalizing a first draft of new and expanded national Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA-NMFS that will hopefully help address some of the key issues this spill raised.

Apr 21 = Oiled wildlife training for the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) conference, hosted by The Marine Mammal Center. Christine, Nancy and I gave a day-long course to over 40 international marine animal professionals (mostly marine mammal vets, but several others of various ilk). The course was long on Powerpoints (cramming oil spill info on mammal and birds species over a short time period), but did include a great hands-on portion where TMMC allowed us to do “processing and intake” on four juvenile elephant seals. Overall, it was a great enthusiastic group – special thx to Frances Gulland and Tenaya Norris for organizing, as well as the entire TMMC vet/husbandry staff for pitching in during a very busy day!

Platform A Oil Spill (courtesy MSNBC)

Apr 22nd = Earth Day. In 1970, the concept of Earth Day was developed by Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the effects of the 1969 Platform A blowout in Santa Barbara. He felt that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Since that time, Earth Day has held a special place in our hearts within the oil spill community, as it led to the formation of the USEPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90). For more info on this event and its history, please visit

Apr 22nd – 25th = IAAAM Conference at Cavallo Point Lodge, Sausalito. This international meeting brought together more than 440 wildlife professionals from 25 countries to discuss issues and research findings pertinent to our marine species. The setting was gorgeous, the papers and posters fascinating, and the discussions and networking capabilities were thought-provoking and exciting. Especially relevant was presentations by Drs. Stephanie Venn-Watson and Cynthia Smith of the National Marine Mammal Foundation on health affects being seen in bottlenose dolphins from the coastal Louisiana region. Fascinating work that may assist us in better understanding the unusual mortality event that continues to rage there, and the possible effects that the DWH spill had on this species. More info on the conference can be found at

Oiled little blue penguins (Courtesy Maritime NZ)

Oiled little blue penguins (Courtesy Maritime NZ)

Apr 25th = World Penguin Day. To round out a crazy busy week, we took a day to appreciate and better understand the amazing animals that are penguins. As we are all aware, penguins are key animals for us to describe the horrific effects of oil on animals (as the Treasure and Oliva oil spills) as well as the significantly positive results that can be seen with effective and professional rehabilitation (as SANCCOB/IBRRC/IFAW and Massey University have shown). Further, these birds have led to significant research on the long-term effects of oiling on marine species and given us great data to base arguments on the merits of intervention after oil spills. Lastly (and something I did not know before), they can tell us a lot about our own personality types! If you haven’t yet done so, go take the Pew Charitable Trust Penguin Personality Quiz (as well as learn about the conservation efforts for “your” species). BTW – Adelie penguins rule!

OK, so much for “highlights”! I hope everyone has a great restful and oil-free weekend!

– Mike


Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Two Years and Counting…

Last year, on this date, I noted that the DWH spill was still very much in everyones minds and hearts through retrospective media reports, images and personal stories.  Now that we are at two years after the start of the incident, media (and public) interest once again has peaked about the spill, but for more troubling reasons from an environmental perspective.

Reports have begun to surface related to potential impacts on the flora and fauna of the Gulf of Mexico – impacts that scientists are attempting to carefully determine whether they may be associated with the more than 200 million gallons of crude oil and the more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant applied. These (with appropriate links) include:

However, there is some good news on this front. Scientists, with sizable funding support, are attacking these questions with a voracity that is rarely seen with environmental issues, attempting to ascertain the root causes of these (and other) problems. While it is easy to point the finger and blame the spill outright for such impacts, without using sound scientific principles, the ultimate outcomes can become muddled due to little baseline (pre-spill) information, the possibility of several “smoking guns” causing sick animals, and other confounding issues. With the skills of the folks working these problems, I have little doubt that we will get better results than is often seen after other disasters.

You may say “who cares?” a bit to all this science-speak; the environment is still messed up. And shouldn’t we concentrate on other more important issues, such as increasing prevention and better understanding how to care for oiled animals in the future? Well, I would say: why not do all three? In addition to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment projects going on, we have basic science occuring, with organizations such as the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to better understand the impacts of oil and dispersant on the GoM ecosystem. We also have significant efforts occurring at the Federal level to minimize the risks of incidents such as the DWH occurring in the future, with new innovations on blowout prevention and control coming forward and a newly-aligned MMS focusing on the risks.

On the oiled wildlife front, most oiled wildlife response organizations I know of have taken the time to evaluate their own processes and methods to see how they can do things better. Just this past week, Emily gave a webinar on changes to the OWCN protocols for animal care, and a fully revised version of both the oiled bird as well as mammal protocols, are on the horizon. On the international front, a newly-energized effort has been taking place trying to better develop a method to provide worldwide oiled wildlife response capabilities through a organized collaboration of key organizations. In all, these are exciting times!

This is not to say we should become complacent. The best clean-up effort, after all, is prevention of oiling of our wildlife in the first place. Both Nationally as well as Internationally, we have a long way to go to be able to be comfortable with our plans and systems. On the oiled wildlife side, while we have come a long way in the past decades, we always have things to learn and plans to develop and test to ensure rapid, efficient and effective collection and care, should animals become affected.

In closing, I would like to conclude this blog/discussion/soapbox asking you to join me in remembering the 11 crewmembers of the Deepwater Horizon rig who perished on this day. I wish everyone a safe and healthy April 20th.

– Mike

April Reflections

It is hard to believe that April is already here! It seems like the Christmas holidays were just a few weeks away, but not so. Signs of spring are apparent everywhere: the buds on the trees, the planting of the tomatoes in my backyard, the warmer (although wet) days, even a few miniature figs on my fig tree! But with the passage of time, and with the coming of April in particular, we come close to the two-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. This two-year mark brings a mixture of emotions. Sadness, because of the eleven people that lost their lives and the families of these men who were severely affected by this event. Sadness, because of the many people that suffered economic hardship as a result of the spill. And sadness because of the environmental impact the oil spill had, and continues to have, on the ecosystem in the Gulf. However, this two-year mark should also be a time of hope and reflection on the lessons we have learned and the knowledge we have gained since then, so that the next time something on this scale happens, we will be better prepared, not only in the Gulf region, and in California, but in the entire world. At the library the other day, a book caught my eye, and I have been engrossed in it ever since.  It is Carl Safina’s, “A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout” (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011).  This book is an interesting account of the snowball effect leading up to the blowout on April 20, 2010, and the ticking of the clock in the months that followed and as the spill unfolded.  In the spirit of “reflection”, I wanted to share with you a thought-provoking quote from the preface of this book:  “In the end, this is a chronicle of a summer of pain – and hope. Hope that the full potential of this catastrophe would not materialize, hope that the harm done would heal faster than feared, and hope that even if we didn’t suffer the absolute worst, we’d still learn the big lesson here. We may have gotten two out of three. That’s not good enough. Because: there’ll be a next time.”

The big lesson, I believe, is that we need to constantly be on our toes. We need to learn from each of these incidents because, as Safina says, we know that it isn’t a matter of IF the next “big” one will occur, it is a matter of WHEN it will occur. Happy spring and happy April to all.


Deepwater Horizon Spill: One Year After

Hello everyone-

As is evidenced by the numerous articles, blogs and other reports today, the DWH spill is still very much in everyones minds and hearts.  Similar to many other folks, I had planned on “celebrating” (for lack of a better word) the one year “anniversary” of the spill with a recollection of the fact and figures associated with the largest oil spill in US history, the current status of wildlife rescue and care, and comments on the state of the environment in the Gulf. After further reflection, though, I think it is more appropriate to remember the 11 crewmembers of the Deepwater Horizon rig today and wish their families our thoughts and prayers on this day.

That is not to say that I don’t want to share with you my reflections on the event – far from it.  I have chosen to do this, however, on the “anniversary” of the inception/activation of the Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle Group – April 29.  I have spent a great deal of time over the past month critically thinking about what occurred – what went well and what we can do as a wildlife community to improve how we approach spill response. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with our OWCN partners.  We will also hopefully have some guest bloggers share their stories with us to give several voices and viewpoints to such a historic event.

So, for tonight, I wish everyone a safe and healthy April 20th, and I am truly grateful that it passed in an oil-free manner.

– Mike

Interesting Post-Deepwater Interview

On last Friday’s “Talk of the Nation” Science Friday piece on NPR, there was an extremely interesting interview on assessing the health of the Gulf of Mexico post-Deepwater Horizon. Topics ranged from Natural Resource Damage Assessment/restoration to human health impacts for the region’s residents to using the spill as a “teachable moment” for the world’s youth.  If you have some time, I would highly recommend either listening to the piece (about 45 min) or reading the transcript.  Both can be found by clicking on this link. Happy reading/listening!

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon: There and Back and There and Back and There and Back and There Again…

Hello, my name is Mike and I am a fallen blogger…. I am told admitting this is the first step in recovery.

Clearly, my hope to keep folks in the loop after a brief hiatus fell drastically short. At the risk of a almost comical understatement, much has occurred in the OMTU since the last post of July 2nd. I have started this post many, many times since that date, but so much was (and is still) happening at the time, it was difficult to launch back in – the phrase “drinking from a fire hydrant” leaps to mind. That, and to be perfectly candid, I was so mentally and emotionally drained after those first 73 days on the spill, following a single coherent thought was proving challenging.

So, I delayed…and delayed…and delayed. I told myself that, as the wildlife information coming out of the Unified Command had finally caught up with the operational activities, that my efforts weren’t as needed. That the media attention to the wildlife efforts had spun up such that most of the general public knew what was going on in the wildlife centers. That I had saturated my own market by daily posts. That sunspots would likely destroy the earth anyway right after drafting a poignant yet pithy entry, so it was more efficient to not complete my blog…..the justifications were endless.

So, I will try and get folks spun back up on the trials and tribulations of the OMTU over the past 2.5 months (gasp!).  However, to start from the beginning would tax the blog server in the length of this post, so I will try and give everyone some of the key highlights of what has gone on over this period in several different posts. This will include blogs detailing the current status of the OMTU, an overview of the turtle nest relocation program, the observer program (for skimming and controlled burns), the on-water capture program, and the current downscaling efforts for the response.

First, as the post title indicates, I have been back and forth quite a bit over this time (and United now loves me as a consequence). I have been back to Louisiana 9-18 July, 23-31 July, 11-21 Sep, and 22 Sep to now (yes, I went back to Davis for approximately 15 hrs on the 22nd for the honor of speaking at the UCD Convocation). Not to say the times I was not there I didn’t stay in the loop – I tended to lurk on the daily OMTU conference calls as well as help remotely w/ data compilation and reporting.  We have continued to rotate excellent folks through Houma and Mobile, attending to ongoing logistical needs for the facilities, capture efforts, continued modifications to protocols, reporting to all branches of the government, dodging some curveballs and hitting others out of the park (and, yes, getting beaned by a few as well) – generally continuing to do the amazing work that the folks here in the Southeast region have been doing since the beginning.

At the risk of giving away the plot for upcoming blog entries, our animal numbers exploded since last we spoke.  From 20 April to 2 July, we had collected 156 live turtles (104 of which were not visibly oiled) and 356 dead. After that date (and in fact, after the well was capped on 15 July), the numbers of live oiled turtles collected increased significantly – 377 additional live turtles, of which 352 were oiled and 268 of which were captured in a 2-week period between 26 Jul and 8 Aug (see the chart below – click on it to enlarge).

Again, at the risk of serious understatement, this tested our system pretty extensively, necessitating us to rapidly increase capacities at our FL and LA facilities, bring additional folks in to help on animal care, activate secondary facilities in FL to take de-oiled turtles, and to make plans for expansion of capture activities.

All in all, I feel the OMTU performed magnificently – the facility folks at Audubon, IMMS, Gulf World and Gulfarium tirelessly took in, processed and cared for the animals; the field teams primarily from FL FWC, Inwater Research, Riverhead Foundation and NOAA scoured weedlines and convergence zones (to be described more later – stay tuned) to get to affected turtles as quickly as possible; secondary facilities at Disney Living Seas Sea World Orlando, Mote Marine Lab, Clearwater Aquarium and Florida Aquarium cleared their decks to allow cleaned turtles to be transported there for final rehab before release; and the Command Post staff (Houma, Mobile and off-site management staff) busted their collective rear to make sure the operational staff had what they needed to continue field and facility efforts.

I am very, very proud to be part of this massive effort, and remained amazed of all we have accomplished over the past 150+ days of response. I am also absolutely ecstatic that, to date, we have only had 13 mortalities among the 533 live turtles captured during this event – a 97.5% survival percentage to date! – and have released 316 of these turtles. In the coming blog posts, I will try and convey some of the more difficult issues we have had to grapple with over the past several months, but I think there should be no question as to whether this effort has been a success! More to come, so stay tuned…

– Mike (newly reformed blogger)