By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Pictures of pelicans encased in oil and struggling to walk are making it graphically, unequivocally plain to see that the BP oil disaster is a death knell for wildlife and ecosystems across the Gulf of Mexico.

Oiled pelicans rescued June 3 (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

Oiled pelicans rescued June 3 (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

The heartbreaking photos and video, released today and yesterday after it was discovered that a famous rookery on Grand Isle had been inundated with oil, leave no doubt that the spill will suffocate life wherever it lands and beyond. It is asphyxiating birds with coatings of oil, and orphaning the offspring left behind in the nests.

The injury to Louisiana’s state bird, in particular, has reinflamed anger over the disaster. Parish officials and conservationists are asking if the rescue response is adequate. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called on BP and the Obama Administration to step up wildlife rescue operations after touring the area on Thursday.

“If Americans were on the boat with me today and saw what I saw, they would be beating down the doors of their representatives, calling for action. We watched a pelican struggling to fly under the weight of globs of oil. We saw a pod of dolphins straining to swim through the oil slick.

“The most infuriating thing was that there was no one else out where we were. There were no BP crews rescuing birds. There was no BP ship laying booms or soaking up oil. BP has created a disaster so huge that response efforts can never match the needs here,” Brune said in a prepared news statement.

At least 60 oiled  birds were covered in oil at the Queen Bess Island Pelican rookery (a nesting area) on Thursday, including 41 pelicans, according to the Deepwater Horizon command. They birds were rescued and and transported by wildlife responders, veterinarians, biologists and wildlife rehabilitators, the government reported. Staff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and other wildlife responders will be working “around the clock” to assess the damage and restore the rookery.

The birds are being treated at the Fort Jackson Rehabilitation Center in Louisiana, where the the International Bird Rescue and Research Center is coordinating rescue efforts.  The IBRRC has not reported yet on their likely survival.

They are among more than 600 birds that have been recovered or found along gulf shores since the oil disaster began April 20, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The bird tally at this point looks like this:

  • 85 visibly oil birds have been recovered alive
  • 537 have been found dead, with 38 of those being deemed “visibly oiled” and 119 deaths under investigation

In addition, the USFWS, reports that:

  • 44 sea turtles have been collected alive; 26 of those were oiled and 18 are under investigation
  • 234 sea turtles have been found dead; 2 had been visibly oiled and 225 are under investigation
  • 30 mammals have been found dead, and one was recovered alive — a breakdown was not available but several were dolphins

Jay Holcomb, director of the center and leader the rescue efforts at the Jackson bird rehab facility, said in his blog that the bird rescuers will be doing everything possible to help the pelicans rescued yesterday to recover. The teams typically wash the pelicans with Dawn dishwash detergent.

The professionals and trained bird rescuers are “unhappy like you (the public) that this is happening,” Holcomb said. “But we have a great master plan to offset as much damage to the birds as we can.”

Brown pelicans in healthier times before the BP spill (Photo: Drew Wirwa, USFWS)

Brown pelicans in healthier times before the BP spill (Photo: Drew Wirwa, USFWS)

Brune, however, would like to see rescuers getting to the birds and other wildlife sooner. In his statement, he said a more intensive rescue effort was needed to match the magnitude of the disaster.

“We should stop using the term “clean up” because there is really no way to clean up this mess. It is heartbreaking. It’s hard to describe the magnitude of this catastrophe. This is the largest environmental disaster in our history. It calls for a response of the same scale….

Brune went on to say that President Obama’s leadership is needed more than ever to develop a clean energy plan for the next 20 years that will help deliver the nation from dependence on fossil fuels. Relying on oil has brought much misery, he said, contributing to air pollution, climate change, foreign wars and disasters like the Exxon Valdez and BP Gulf of Mexico oil spills.

“For years, the oil industry has raked in the highest profits in the world, while battling safety regulations and lobbying for loopholes and subsidies that our leaders have been all too willing to grant. The oil industry has fought fiercely against the clean energy policies that threaten its stranglehold on our economy,” Brune wrote. Now, it is time to re-gear our economy, as we once did to meet the challenges of World War II.

“We need that level of ambitious vision now. It’s time to be bold. This is our chance to move America beyond dependence on oil. We need to seize it.”

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