Deepwater Horizon Day 65-73: Reflection Part 2

Well, there has been another significant pause in blogging, for which I am sorry to my three loyal fans. While I could again point to my diminishing faculties and challenge with coming up with new and interesting information to relay to folks, this delay is due primarily to my rotating off of the spill on Thursday 24 Jun, replaced by the eminent Dr. Teri Rowles. After my being on for 9 weeks (minus one for good behavior) and over 750 work hours, we are moving towards a rotation schedule for the OMTU Leader position of 2 weeks on, 4 off (more or less – more more than less would be my guess).

I actually began this blog on Wednesday prior to my departure, but did not get far. I was having significantly difficulties articulating my conflicting emotions on leaving. On the one hand, I was greatly looking forward to seeing my family again, sleeping in my own bed, enjoying more than just a fleeting glimpse of World Cup, and getting reacquainted with the Wildlife Health Center staff who so willingly supported my capacity to assist on this response. I was leaving the program in very capable hands, with Teri rotating in, Kaiti continuing to provide critical logistical help, Alexis Gutierrez coming back, and Brent Norberg (from the NW region) helping on the mammal side. Large-scale efforts on a number of fronts were progressing as smoothly as possible, including (among others) a plan to relocate all turtle nests in the FL panhandle to a facility on FL’s Atlantic coast, getting observers onto Controlled Burn teams in the Gulf, and expanding on-water turtle collection efforts.

However, the job wasn’t (and isn’t) done. There are still daily issues that crop up that require quick action. Curve balls are more the norm than continuous fast balls (or, in parlance more in tune with my preferences, the goal is continuing to get peppered by excellent outside shots all over the pitch). Typically at this stage in a spill, response activities are winding down (or at least are fully understood). Not so here. So my departing even for a 3-4 week period leaves me conflicted.

So I was not able to complete the blog on that day, thinking I could further ponder this issue, come to some resolution (at least in my mind), package it as an instructional yet pithy entry, and get to it in transit the following day. Not so much. I found my seat on the plane, perused the Sky Mall catalog (who buys that stuff anyway?), and about 5 minutes later woke in Denver. I have spoken previously about the time warp that exists in spills where you begin to work on something at the ICC at 0800 and 5 minutes later it is 1100. Well, this has nothing on the fracture in the time-space continuum which exists on a return trips from spills. I then figured I had plenty of time during my layover, then on the next leg. Well, in finding free WiFi in Denver (thank goodness!), I dealth with the 34 emails that had arisen while I was in the air, then reboarded.  This time the Sky Mall was safe (as was my bank account), as I fell asleep on takeoff.  Needless to say, the blog just wasn’t going to happen on the return trip.

The next day, I started from scratch from Davis, compiling the details of the previous week. The progress being made on other at-sea captures. The excellent care being provided at all of our facilities on the more than 90 live oiled turtles. The wonderful people that I am fortunate to work with. The fact that the South really isn’t set up for vegetarians. But I was still unsettled – it was clear I was still trying to decompress and resolve this conflict yet step back and allow the response to continue without my helping to lead it. I was still on the conference calls, dealing with more emails on new and ongoing issues, supplies and staffing, etc., so it was almost like I was still there. Yet I wasn’t.

So, I gave it a few more days to try and then give my thoughts on what the spill has meant to me (to date), where things are at, and where things are going.  However, it became clear that those ideas aren’t formed enough for me to be able to articulate them clearly.  This is definitely not due to concerns related to the existing and future staffing for the OMTU – far from it. I had hoped that some space and distance would allow these reflections to come more into focus (hence the range of dates on the title), but they have not.  The oil keeps spilling, the risk is still great for the species we are all caring so much about and working so hard towards saving, the conference calls and emails still occur, and the scheduling for all of our returns (even when we rotate off) continues onward.

So, here we are – a blog about nothing (Seinfeld would be so proud!). At this point, it appears I will still stay closely linked to the OMTU from Davis (allowing me to keep the OWCN moving forward as best we can and keeping a high level of readiness should something happen in CA) and will likely return to Houma in mid to late July.  I hope that during this time I can better capture my thoughts on these topics to share. In the meantime, I will be posting more in the way of articles, opinion pieces from other responders, key activities that the OMTU are involved with, and give the best info possible on the activities as they relate to mammals and turtles during the response.

Thank you to everyone for your support, good thoughts and wonderful emails and comments during the past several months!

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon Day 63: Oil Spill Slang…

Apologies for being a bit remiss with the blog posts as of late. It’s a bit redundant to say that things have been busy, but they really have! I’ve noticed with this response that every day can be categorized as either “busy” or “crazy”. Just when you think you’ve checked something off your list ten more things get added. However, despite these conditions, I’ve allotted a bit of time to post a quick blog giving you guys a peak inside our world. Today we’ll be exploring oil spill slang. Below are some terms that I’ve heard thrown around here that I find to be either interesting, amusing, or a bit of both.

  • Tour of Duty: Referring to how many trips you’ve taken to respond.
    • Example: Hey Mike. You’re heading back home soon, right? Are you coming back for your third tour of duty?
  • VOOville: This is wonderful place where you can learn about Vessels of Opportunity.
    • Example: I’m heading to VOOville. Wish me luck. I need some VOOs!
  • Demob: This is a verb. It refers to a process someone who is leaving the Command Post must go through before boarding their flight or entering the car to return to home.
    • Example: Today’s Carrie’s last day. I hope she remembers to demob.
  • Day-Walker: This is a person who works the during the daytime.
    • Example: Hey Mark. Are you a day-walker with logistics?
  • Night-Walker: This is the opposite of a day-walker. This person works the night shift.
    • Example: Yup. I’m back on as a night-walker. You?
  • 213: Ahhh… the dreaded 213. This is a resource requisition form. There are three types of 213s: Personnel, Resource, and Equipment and Materials. You have to fill out a 213 for any resources purchased, rented, etc.
    • Example: These 213s are killing me, Kaiti! (Carrie said that to me once or twice).
    • Example: I like these 213s now that Kaiti made fill-able PDFs. (hooray!)
  • Alligator: An alleged reptile native to Louisiana that lives in the pond in front of the command post.
    • Example: Have you seen the alligator?
  • Off-campus: Physically leaving the command post for reasons other than sleeping.
    • Example: We’re going to dinner off-campus today! (Sara gets excited when we go off-campus)

Now that you’ve learned some Deepwater Horizon slang feel free to give it a try today.


Deepwater Horizon Day 61: Out of the Box

Hi everyone, it’s Sarah back again, giving Mike the night off (and a few extra z’s).  I’m probably a pretty strange choice to be writing a blog about the activities of the OMTU, since I’m not in Houma, and haven’t been for almost a week.  Hence the title of this post… I’m officially out of the box.  Any box, actually.  See, in the OMTU we have an org chart – one of those fancy business-report type things (our Group Supervisor is a Mac guy, and, apparently, that’s what they do)(MZ’s Comment: Yes it is, Sarah).  On the org chart are boxes for all of the roles within the Group… when I’m in Houma I’m in the Mammal Unit box.  To appropriately work within the Incident Command Structure, it’s important to define roles and then to make sure that the appropriate people (the names in the box) are doing the appropriate jobs.  Sure, there’s some overlap, and if one issue is particularly hot (time-consuming), folks pitch in to help out, but it’s good to have a single point person for a particular topic.  Once you rotate out, though, your name is taken off the org chart and *poof* – you’re out of your box.

Having spent over a month in Houma thus far, I can say that it’s a pretty stunning transition to leave the Command Post and come back to “real life.”  In some ways, of course, it’s great to come home – see your family and pets, drive your own car, eat food that doesn’t come from a cafeteria line, and get at least 7 hours of sleep (well, if you’re smart).  But there are other things that aren’t so great.

For one, the first question that everyone asks is, “what’s it like there?” and you quickly realize it is impossible to explain the experience.  One other person from my office has spent time in the Gulf; when co-workers asked us what it was like, we just shrugged and looked at each other… Actually, even when you’re there, it’s pretty impossible at the end of each day to verbalize what you accomplished in the 15+ hours that you were working.  Also, when you explain that you spent the entire 15+ hours per day in an office building (now trailer) working on protocols, sending e-mails and listening in on conference calls, and you haven’t seen the beach or oil, people seem a little let down.  Add to it that you actually had fun and are hoping and/or planning to return, and they just smile and nod.  So that just makes you feel weird.

Second, it’s really, really, really hard (maybe impossible) to turn off that portion of your brain that is running through all things oil spill.  After all, you’ve been living it for 7 days a week, 15+ hours a day, and now you’re just walking away.  If you’re like me, you left a lot of things half-finished, or not even started, and you didn’t do the best job of leaving notes for your replacement to explain everything that they’ll need to work on.  There’s guilt involved at leaving things half-done (particularly when your replacement is a good friend!).  Once you have “free time” (which seems to happen primarily when you’re no longer sitting in on those 11,000 daily conference calls, although I did make a massive “to-do” list on my flight home), you continue thinking over the half-drafted plans and protocols.  In some of that free time, you may even work on some of them – just as a way to help out, of course.  It wouldn’t at all be because you still wanted an excuse to stay involved.  You also have a lot of empathy for the people onsite, as you know exactly how long and stressful their days are like, so there’s a desire to do whatever you can to help ease the load and make their days that much shorter and easier.

And that’s another thing.  It’s hard being out of the loop, especially when you’re used to being in it.  You might start hitting up news feeds to try and learn what’s going on (which typically leads to frustration when you find articles that are telling what you know to be only one side of the story, or half of the truth if it was a good reporter).  Or you might start making the occasional phone call to someone who’s still on site.  Usually with a good reason (the best reason being that they called you for a piece of information), but you’ll probably keep them on the phone longer than strictly necessary, just because it makes you feel like you’re still a useful, contributing member of the team.  It’s especially nice when your knowledge/answers can save people from doing duplicative work, or simplify a complicated process.

Finally, if you do have a return date, and you know you’ll be onsite again sooner or later, in many ways it doesn’t make sense to let go too much.  Yes, you want to rest, relax and refresh.  But you also don’t want to fall too far behind, since you don’t want to take too long to get back up to speed.  Striking that balance is an ongoing challenge.

So that’s what it’s like being Out of the Box.  I’ll keep resting up so that I’m completely prepared to rotate back in (which will be a little over a week from now), and I’ll try and get some of my “real” job done so that they’ll let me go back.  In many ways, though, my trip back to Houma and the insanity that is that world can’t come soon enough.

– Sarah

Deepwater Horizon Day 59: A Much-Needed Update

Well, I want to start this post with an apology. I have not been able to keep up the frequency of posts on this tour of duty as I wished to, or was able to in the earlier period. Call it combat fatigue, the need to do more complete and frequent reports to the Unified Command and the trustees, sunspots – whatever the cause, I will try and be better on this.

So, an update: the OMTU is continuing to whirr merrily along. The team of Carrie Hubard (mammals), Sara McNulty (turtles), Kaiti Ferguson (all things logistic) and myself are continuing to plan, support and lead the efforts in Houma for the Group, which has expanded over the past month to include 33 key staff throughout the region. We have recently moved from our “cozy” (e.g., cramped) environs to “trailerville” in front of the Command Center. The Wildlife Branch received prime real estate in this quad-wide trailer (and, if you are a long-time trailer aficionado like me, you know this is a Cadillac size of trailers), with our own copier, room for 6 OMTU folks, and wall space to display artwork from an entire elementary school that sent us thank you letters. One downside: no coffeemaker in the unit, so I am getting my exercise through regular trips to the other building!

The Gulf Coast has also said goodbye to two other OWCN members that were out here for a rotation – Christine Fiorello came to help support the veterinary care at the MS and AL bird facilities, and Don Ballard deployed to assist me in ensuring the turtle/mammal facilities were as ready to go as possible. Both did excellent work, were greatly appreciated for their efforts, and well deserved of getting a few days off for good behavior. Thank you both for helping out!

As I mentioned yesterday, capture efforts are on a temporary hiatus while we rest, retool and plan to redeploy. Right now, plans are in the works to expand our base of operations to not only include shoreline and at-sea captures, but to evaluate the ability to work cooperatively with the in-situ burn units as well as the skimmer fleets that are responding to the spill. Unlike what has been portrayed in the press on these efforts, the folks in each of these response functions have worked cooperatively (and with great interest) with us to develop the best plan possible to collect oiled wildlife from these areas before clean-up operations commence. Through working with them, our efforts can not only work more effectively within the system, but can be done more safely and with greater logistical support. I remain truly hopeful that these efforts will bear much fruit in the coming weeks by allowing us to capture more animals in distress, building on the tremendous efforts and successes of Blair Witherington and his team over the past weeks.

Animal care activities continue at three of our four facilities.  As of noon today, we had 95 live turtles in care, with 75 live oiled turtles being captured and a total of 469 live and dead turtles collected to date. Over the coming weeks, we will begin to crank through the remaining turtle necropsies to attempt to establish leading causes of death and to collect samples for further tests. On the mammal side, we have collected 46 dolphins thus far, with two of those being dead externally oiled animals and one live doplhin rescued from within a boomed area and immediately released. Unfortunately, we have also found one dead sperm whale floating 150 miles south of Pensacola. This whale, found by a research vessel doing fish surveys within the area, fully photodocumented the carcass and collected tissue samples, and we are currently developing a “hindcast” to determine what the likely drift may have been to better determine where the animal possibly died.

Long-term and large-scale planning continues for us throughout the region. Additional facilities have been identified for de-oiling turtles and cetacea in Florida and Texas, secondary facilities (which could hold clean turtles for long periods) have been found throughout the region, and manatee facilities, personnel and equipment continues to be planned. Additional turtle nesting and hatchling contingencies are daily discussed and modified (based on where the spill goes) – I hope to brief everyone more fully on these plans in the days to come. Add to this regular needs for updated documents/protocols/info sheets (such as for clean-up operators on how to collect animals should they find them), responding to all mammal and turtle reports over the Hotline, receiving and filling out requests for equipment and supplies from all facilities and field staff, responding to media inquiries, filing regular reports to all the response bodies that need it, and various and unsundry conference calls and in-person meetings with other Groups and Units, each day is chock full of activities that keep us all hopping!

So, in closing for this evening, as you can hopefully see, things remain busy here, but our efforts continue to be as strong as ever. We are attempting to be ready for anything that might come up, and when it doesn’t (which happens not daily, not hourly, but sometimes minutely – and yes I continue to enjoy making words up), we remain true to our ideals of flexible adaptability in continuing to move forward.  On this blog, please keep checking back, as I hope to have several guest bloggers over the next several days to liven up the discussion, share their views on the response, and to give you a respite from my parenthetical additions (though I can’t guarantee I won’t reserve editorial privileges before I post their info)!

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon Day 58: Turtles Capture Update

Just a brief note to try and inform everyone of current and future activities related to directed at-sea captures of oiled turtles.

The Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle Group has temporarily suspended at-sea turtle captures beginning the evening of Wed 16 Jun. This is not a cancellation of these operations as has been reported by various sources. This pause is required for three specific reasons:

  • Expected weather patterns will likely not allow such operations (focused 10-40 mi offshore) to be conducted safely and effectively;
  • Personnel involved in the capture operations require an extended (at least 3 day) rest period to ensure safe practices and to allow the re-supply of vessels; and
  • Lead staff involved in the at-sea operations, in concert with group leadership, must spend some time strategically planning for the most effective means to continue operations to collect oiled turtles.

Currently, a number of options are being pursued logistically from within the Unified Command to be started as soon as possible.  These may include imbedding dedicated capture teams within skimmer and in-situ burn units and/or expanding at-sea assets by developing a specific “turtle capture task force” within the Operations Section.  These operations will allow for more complete activities without the associated logistical challenges that currently exist within the existing at-sea operations.

The at-sea turtle capture efforts have expanded throughout this response by a measured, logical approach to increasing activities based on needs and animals at risk. This approach has reaped great rewards, allowing the capture of many oiled turtles that would have otherwise perished.  By temporarily suspending operations, we can more fully develop a comprehensive plan which will have greater results as this spill continues to unfold.

Please let others know that our group is dedicated to collecting and caring for these wildlife as best as we can.  I will keep everyone informed as the plans progress on this front. Thank you.

– Mike Ziccardi

Deepwater Horizon Day 55: The Wall Part II

Well, last night’s hiatus on the blog was a great thing, as I started out this morning fresh and rarin’ to go. However, as the day progressed, the Wall (which descended so inelegantly on me last night – and this was a Great Wall of China-sized wall) snuck it’s head back out and grabbed me while I wasn’t looking.  Thus, I must beg your forgiveness one more evening for a full and complete update.  Some highlights:

  • OMTU Status: The OMTU has seen a almost complete turnover since last we met.  Gone are the stellar Unit members Sarah Wilkin, Alexis Gutierrez and Lanni Hall, and in their respective places are Carrie Hubard, Sara McNulty and our own Kaiti Ferguson (yes, Kaiti gets to come join the party!).  Thx to all for such superlative work!
  • Turtles collected (as of 1200 14 Jun): 88 total live turtles (50 oiled); 333 total dead turtles (7 oiled)
  • Dolphins collected (as of 1200 14 Jun): 41 total dead dolphins (2 oiled)
  • Status of necropsies: 75 turtles and 14 dolphins done to date – no oil noted in or on any turtle evaluated, oil on 2 dolphins.

A full and complete report will be delivered tomorrow.  Until then, have a pleasant evening.

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon Day 54: Home Sweet Houma

Since Mike’s in some serious need of sleep, it looks like you’re stuck with me for tonight’s post. To be honest, since I’ve only spent a few hours at the Command Post today, this will be a pretty short post. Although it was a long travel day, I was excited (yes, I’m a bit lame) to check out the Command Post. Like you, I’ve been reading Mike’s posts and have been trying to imagine the environment in which he was working. The only way I can describe it is that it’s like a big bee hive. The place is bustling with activities and people. It’s a pretty impressive sight. The one thing that I find a bit amusing is that you can definitely pick out new kids (like me) from the seasoned vets (like Mike). Hopefully in these next couple of days I’ll be able to learn my way around this place, be a positive addition to the response, and slide from the role of new kid to seasoned vet. I’ll do my best to keep you posted!


Deepwater Horizon Day 53: Touring the ICC

In reviewing a few of my past blogs, two things have become painfully clear: 1) the length, frequency and conveyance of the little personal details of my corner of the spill response have gone the way of my ever-dwindling neuronal function; and 2) I haven’t done justice yet to describing the Houma ICC (aside from the snacks in the Environmental Unit who, by the way, now come to steal my Swedish Fish thanks to a few selected souls who have filled my gastronomical coffers!)  So, I figured I would attempt to reverse these deficiencies and give my 3 loyal readers a personal tour of the Command Center, complete with historical perspectives (as I have been here for many of the evolutionary phases of the site).  I promise to update everyone tomorrow on the status of the OMTU (btw, everything is great – turtles all getting excellent care.  See CNN if you don’t believe me).

The Houma ICC is housed in BP’s Operations Learning Center in Shreiver, LA, just off of Hwy 311 (left at the casino/gas stop). It is a larger, somewhat modern-looking building (steel and glass throughout) with a large gravel parking lot adjacent to it.  This lot has been built since the beginning of the spill to accommodate the 1,100 or so people who work in a facility designed to train about 100 people at a time.  Finding a parking spot is the first challenge, as the lot is pretty much filled by 0700 (0600 is when the day shift officially starts).  Daily, there are dire warnings from security to not park on Hwy 311, cones that magically appear overnight like toadstools to block the most inventive parking spots from the day previously, warnings to not get to close to the waterway in front of the building as the resident alligator may be curious (no lie), and more and more yellow tape to designate zones.

After battling for your spot, the walk to the front door is an experience in rapid constructional evolution (and, yes, one of my failings is my enjoyment of creating new words).  The Louisiana State Police and Emergency Response have large motorhomes parked out front, complete with satellite dishes and generators. Trailers are magically appearing before our eyes on what used to be the parking lot (I vaguely remember being able to park on concrete, but it may be a fabrication). We are told that many different organization units will be moving from the ICC into the trailers, but they may be waiting for a Group/Unit Smackdown as it has not happened yet.

Once past this “shantytown”, you enter a tall glass entryway, where a barrier and security guards meet you.  Everyone has ID badges with bar codes (a dream of mine for OWCN responses – a warning to future staff and volunteers), and you are scanned in on entry.  You then have a choice – turn right to the dining area for breakfast, or go straight, through the main work area to the Wildlife Room to see if your workspace has been invaded by a renegade Wildlife person claiming space. I always split the difference, making a pilgrimage first to my alter: the coffee station. Typically, my first (large travel mug) cup of coffee, groggily acquired from the hotel, is gone, so I am able to truly appreciate the 2 large silver urns, 8 large pump carafes and 8 coffee pots awaiting me. It is almost enough to make one get overly emotional.

After refilling, I head back through the Main Room towards the Wildlife Room. This large main room area (approximately the size of two basketball courts) is the home to most of the Operations Section, some of the Planning section, the Documentation Unit and Situation Status unit. Data, forms, graphs and maps decorate each wall (the walls going up about 20-30 feet), large LCD monitors are positioned throughout the area for displaying maps, weather charts and the like, four large-scale copy machines are positioned strategically along the back wall, dry erase boards and easels are positioned near each group, tables are lined up all within the center of the room with laptops and associated humanoids positioned in front of each station, and two extra-large projection screens dominate it all – one typically projecting a map of the Gulf with “the blob” (e.g. the slick) graphically projected on it, the second showing the hundreds of vessels working on the slick in real-time. This area used to house most of the response personnel (with only some groups, such as Wildlife, being sent to the nether regions), but with the growth of the response, every single nook and cranny of the facility is currently being used. This is also the room where main meetings occur – the SitStat meeting (ooh, new lingo for you in the blog!) where the Incident Commanders give everyone info on what is going on, key announcements, etc.  These meetings also have the feel of a large fruit salad, as everyone there has either a military uniform on or a colored vest designating which Section they belong to (red=Ops, blue=Planning, purple=information, etc.).

Once past the main room, you reach a back corridor leading to a number of smaller rooms and cubicles.  This includes larger rooms for Air Operations, Incident Command staff, Comms, SCAT (shoreline cleanup assessment), Logistics, Information/Liaison, and a moderate size conference room, and smaller rooms (10×10) for the USCG Chaplain, Incident Commander, MMS/DOI and a smaller conference room. This last room is fiercely fought over, as it is one of the few quiet places that you can have a conference call (Typically we have our daily calls there – if not, the loyal members of the OMTU use cell phones and flee to different corners of the hallway, as the second-long delay between hearing someone speak and hearing it across your phone is a bit disconcerting – try it sometime). Space has become such an issue in the command post we now have rogue splinter factions of groups establishing office beachheads in the hallway – I even saw one person (no names to protect the innocent, but she is our UCD information officer who helped me out over the past week) use scotch tape to delineate a cubicle on the carpet (complete with door).

The Wildlife Branch occupies one of these larger rooms in this hall, and it is filled with tables, chairs and staff of USFWS, Louisiana Dept of Wildlife & Fisheries, NOAA, OWCN and IBRRC, and also has the wonderful ladies who man the Wildlife Hotline and Volunteer/Transport phone bank.  All in all, there are tables and chairs for 22 and between 25-30 folks work in there. You learn quickly that you must not show weakness in this environment, as the vultures are quick to land on your still-moving carcass if you even make the slightest indication of packing up.

Moving from the Wildlife room (after ensure the sanctity of your spot by parking something of size in your chair), you can make your way down an ancillary hall past the bathroom (coffee nonewithstanding), medic, GIS and ICS software support to the “solarium” (my word, not theirs) – an adjacent massive hallway about 30 feet tall with sunroofs.  This is a great place to pause for two reasons – you can actually see that mythical theory known as the sun, and this is one of the few areas that is not overly air conditioned. Honestly, before having the colored vests, I would arrive at 0600 at the front door in my stereotypic OWCN logo polo, enter the building, put a fleece jacket on, work, leave at 2100, exit the building, then take my jacket off (as it was 80 degrees outside).

Once in the solarium, you have your choice of destinations.  Your first choice is a corridor with more smaller rooms (Environmental Unit, NRDA, conference room and massage tables – no joke.  Massages are available from 0430 – 0730 and 1030-2330. Haven’t yet heard the siren song to get me to partake, but if I have another day like today…). The next option in the solarium is a utility room that has been in constant evolution.  It started as just general storage, then also became where to go to send FedEx packages, then also became where office supplies were distributed, and now also includes where laundry service can be dropped off and picked up. Pretty cushy but, with 1100 people living in hotels, it does make sense. The other two rooms that you could enter are two larger rooms similar to the main area – filled with hundreds of people at tables.  These folks are in what used to be called “overflow”, but now houses people working on a huge number of functions – dispersant use, alternative technologies, vessels of opportunity, NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinators (and the main reason why the Environmental Unit no longer has good snacks), other agency personnel, safety – the list goes on.

Finally, the tour would not be complete without heading back to the dining area.  Again, for a facility that typically serves 100 people at a time, the cooks here do a remarkable job here feeding 10 times that number four meals a day. Food is available cafeteria style, and emphasizes Southern dishes (I am starting to embrace okra after a long introduction to the item, though I still cannot bring myself to select the grits in the morning). Seating here, as in the rooms, is also at a premium, and there are signs on every wall that say no meetings can be conducted in the dining area between 0700-0900, 1100-1300 or 1700-1900. Space, after all, really is the final frontier.

I am sure there are many other aspects, humorous asides and funny anecdotes I could convey but, as the word count is now 1546..1547..1548, I will stop.  As promised, I will bring everyone up-to-date tomorrow evening on the actions and successes of the OMTU.

– Mike

Deepwater Horizon Day 51: Misinformation and Fallacies on Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation

There have been many articles published in the past week or so related to the value and efficacy of rehabilitating oiled birds, including those published by Der Spiegel, the AP, Newsweek’s blog, MSNBC, and National Geographic, to name a few sources. In fact, on the listserve of the Pacific Seabird Group (a remarkable organization filled with brilliant ornithologists), one of the many recent messages debating this topic claimed “I am unaware of any evidence that suggests cleaned birds have significant survival rates, let alone return to be regular breeders.”

If you review the scientific literature on the fate of oiled rehabilitated wildlife, however, a number of studies (a small, growing number but nevertheless quite clear in their conclusions) contradict this statement.

For those interested in this topic, there is an especially relevant paper that came out last year resulting from over 40 years of data on rehabilitation of oiled birds that the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) has amassed (see Wolfaardt, AC, AJ Williams, LG Underhill, RJM Crawford & PA Whittington.  2009. Review of the rescue, rehabilitation and restoration of oiled seabirds in South Africa, especially African penguins Spheniscus demersus and Cape gannets Morus capensis, 1983–2005.  Afr.  J. Mar. Sci. 31: 31–54). From long term data sets with large sample sizes they document survival rates of over 80% for rehabilitated penguins and Cape Gannets.  Wolfaardt et al. cite various studies that also show that these rehabilitated birds can and do successfully breed.  Noteworthy, Peter Ryan, using SANCCOB data, estimated that the African Penguin population was 19% larger than it would have been without the rehabilitation of oiled penguins, a substantial proportion of a declining population of birds (Ryan, P. G.  2003  Estimating the demographic benefits of rehabilitating oiled African Penguins. Pp. 25-29 inRehabilitation of oiled African Penguins: a conservation success story (D. C. Nel & P. A. Whittington, Eds.). BirdLife South Africa and the Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town, South Africa.)

Studies also exist from North America that have shown oiled birds can survive after rehabilitation and will successfully breed.  Rick Golightly and colleagues (2002  Survival and behavior of western gulls following exposure to oil and rehabilitation. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 30:539-546.) showed that rehabilitated oiled Western Gulls survive as well (at least in the first 6 months of release) as unoiled, control gulls.  Stern et al. (2000 Impact assessment of oil spilled from the New Carissa on the Western Snowy Plover along the Oregon Coast. Unpubl. Rept. by the Oregon Natural Heritage Program and The Nature Conservancy to TMM Co., LTD; Coos Bay District Bureau of Land Management; Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife; Dunes National Recreation Area; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 32pp. ) documented significant post-release survival of the threatened Snowy Plover, including successful breeding.  Weston et al. (2008. Waterbirds) demonstrated similar results with treating oiled, Hooded Plover of Australia with birds successfully breeding.  This is not to say that rehabilitated birds always do as well as birds that have not been oiled.  Various studies have shown this is not the case (to name a few: Anderson, D. W., and F. Gress, and D. M. Fry.  1996.  Survival and dispersal of oiled Brown Pelicans after rehabilitation and release. Marine Pollution Bulletin 32:711-718; Anderson, D. W., S. H. Newman, P. R. Kelly, S. K. Herzog, and K. P. Lewis.  2000.  An experimental soft-release of oil-spill rehabilitated American coots (Fulica Americana): lingering effects on survival, condition and behavior. Environmental Pollution 107:285-294; Camphuysen, C. J., P. Duiven, M. P. Harris, and M. F. Leopold.  1997.  Recoveries of Guillemots ringed in the Netherlands: the survival of rehabilitated oiled seabirds. Sula 11:157-174 (in Dutch with English summaries)).

However, the increasingly successful release rate of rehabilitated oiled seabirds by SANCCOB through the past decades offers strong scientific data showing that, with proper facilities, equipment, and trained personnel successful rehabilitation of oiled wildlife can be achieved and we can get better at it.

To address the more recent information related to this topic, we have recently submitted a paper to Biology Letters, and have asked for expedited editorial review to make sure it comes out in the literature as soon as possible.  Obviously, prevention of oil spills will be the best solution to the resulting rehabilitation dilemma oil spills pose.  In the meantime however, when spills happen, past studies show that real conservation success can be achieved through rehabilitating oiled birds and other wildlife.

– Nils and Mike

Guest Blog: Tales of an Oil Spill Response “Widow”

I get to blog again tonight and wanted to report the “Tales of an Oil Spill Widow.”

Those of you who read and follow blogs such as this one understand how devastating this oil spill is on many levels:  to our environment, economy, animals, endangered species, people’s livelihoods, etc.  What I’ve been encountering back here at home in California is how this is affecting the “common man” (or “common woman / common child”).  Knowing that Mike, my husband, has essentially been in Louisiana for the past month and a half due to this catastrophe, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, etc. have been asking me daily what is going on, how sad they are that this is happening, how frustrated they are at a lack of a fast, clean remedy to this problem and how helpless they feel as to what they can do to help.  (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)  Now, before I continue, you all need to know that I am a social worker and therapist, so I am going to talk shop here a little.  People respond to crises in many different ways.  They can get angry or sad, they can ignore/deny the problem, they can complain about the problem, or they can become anxious and dwell on the problem.    All of these responses often immobilize a person, rendering them feeling helpless and hopeless.  There is, however, another mobilizing response that I have encountered over this last month and a half.  People have been approaching me and telling me what they are doing, in their little corner of the world, to help this national crisis.  Some people tell me that they are riding their bikes more to reduce THEIR consumption for oil.  They are telling me they are donating to relief agencies.  They are holding fund raisers to raise even more money for relief funds.   One thing that I am the most pleased with is that they are educating themselves.  They are reading newspapers and articles and blogs.  They are talking with each other about all aspects of this oil spill and discussing a variety of national policies and reforms.  Teachers are discussing all of the above with their students, who are our future policy makers.  Knowledge is power!  With knowledge we can learn from this and hopefully prevent this from occurring again.

A personal example of how teachers are using this as part of their curriculum is when Mike, a couple of weeks ago, was able to cut out some time from his numerous meetings and conference calls to Skype with two elementary school classes.  These 4th, 5th, and 6th graders prepared questions to ask Mike regarding the oil spill.  What impressed me the most was the active and thoughtful questions these students asked.  Some of the questions were:  “Where do dolphins go to get away from the oil slick?”, “How does this affect the food chain?”, “What are the fishing people going to do now?” , “Which species are the most affected?”,  “How much is this going to cost?”,  “How long before we can fish in the Gulf again?”, “What ways have they tried to clean the oil up?” , “Where does the oil go after they siphon it up?” , “Why are the animals stranding themselves more this year than last year”.  As you can tell, these kids are thinking!   Mike teased the kids that they asked tougher questions than the media did.

As I end this blog, I am reading the thank you notes they are sending Mike.  All are sweet, very colorful, and again, very thoughtful.  I ask all those who are concerned about this is to keep thinking, talking and communicating with each other.  Keep talking to your friends, families, neighbors, children, and yes, even strangers.  That is the best way we can come up with the answers we need for current and future problems.  Thanks for listening/reading a different perspective from the Oil Spill Widow in California. 🙂