Posted on 10 December 2010.
Thousands of birds faced a special threat this year: wetlands habitats damaged by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
But thanks to local landowners, many migratory birds may have dodged disaster. Early this summer, the Obama administration set up an initiative to urge landowners to create additional habitat for these birds by flooding fields and croplands. The goal was to get enough landowners involved to total 150,000 acres of flooded and fallowed lands. Gulf Coast landowners and others along important migratory “flyways” responded to the call, cobbling together an area more than three times the size of the initial goal!
The response to the crisis was unprecedented, but so was the BP oil spill and the havoc it caused to the environment.
The initiative, created by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, was launched on June 28, 2010 as an effort to lessen the chances that migrating birds would cross paths with oil, according to a Delta Farm Press report, giving birds cleaner places to rest and safer, uncontaminated food to eat.
“Private landowners play a critically important role in protecting wildlife every single day,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an October statement. “And I am proud that so many landowners in these eight states stepped up to be a part of this unprecedented effort to increase migratory bird habitat and protect wildlife from any lingering effects from the oil spill.”
“The outpouring of support for this effort far exceeded our expectations, and it will have an impact on countless migratory bird populations for years to come,” he said.
An Unprecedented Effort
The response to the crisis was unprecedented, but so was the BP oil spill and the havoc it caused to the environment. The worst in American history, the Deepwater Horizon spill affected at least 650 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline, including more than 380 miles in Louisiana, 110 miles in Mississippi, 75 miles in Alabama and 90 miles in Florida. But only with time, will the full impacts of the spill on Gulf Coast fisheries and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems come to light.
What’s Next for Migratory Birds…
As climate change alters or destroys habitats, bird migration – a miracle of nature – is itself at risk. In addition to the short-term goals that cover this year’s migration season, this Gulf Coast initiative has long-term objectives as well. With luck, future migrating birds will find also refuge on the land of these nature-loving landowners.
Check out more of our coverage on the BP oil disaster.
Find out what you can do to help wildlife impacted by the Gulf disaster.
Posted in Birds, Climate Change, Features, Heroes, Offshore Drilling, Southeast, Wildlife
Posted on 22 September 2010.
Post by Shannon Miller and Elizabeth Fleming from Defenders’ Florida program.
At 10:00am on Monday September 20th, Defenders of Wildlife staff and volunteers met at the Redington Long Pier on Redington Shores Beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida for another coastal cleanup. We joined Ocean Conservancy, who had organized the event, Keep Pinellas Beautiful and the Florida Aquarium dive team. Due to an increase in the number of sea turtle entanglements under this pier, we would be targeting underwater marine debris and monofilament fishing line. Defenders’ duty was to help coordinate the kayakers. We had four single-person kayaks assigned to monitor the dive teams while three 2-person kayaks were deployed to help collect monofilament under the pier and transport debris brought up from the divers back to shore.
When we arrived, all of the abandoned monofilament line and hooks could be seen hanging from the pier like tinsel on a Christmas tree. One pelican flew over our kayak with fishing line dangling from its wing. Unfortunately, the bird flew away so we were unable to rescue it and remove the line.
In less than four hours we collected over 550 pounds (!!) of monofilament line, fishing hooks, fishing lures, and an assortment of marine debris including pipe, rope, crab traps, beach chairs, scissors, pliers, sunglasses, cell phones and a sledgehammer!
We also recovered a dead cormorant that must have swum under the pier after a fish and become entangled. It was a sad reminder of exactly why we do these cleanups and the type of threats to our wildlife that we are trying to prevent. There were so many beautiful cormorants, pelicans, gulls and terns diving and swimming in the water next to the pier, it is hard not to worry about each of them getting entangled.
THANK YOU to everyone that was involved in making this event such a success! Especially to all of our volunteers that came out on such a beautiful Monday morning to help us and to all of the groups involved: Ocean Conservancy, Keep Pinellas Beautiful and the Florida Aquarium dive team. We would also like to thank USF St. Petersburg for donating the kayaks for this event. Without all of you this event would not have been possible. Looking forward to the next cleanup!
Posted in Features, Heroes, Marine Animals, Southeast
Posted on 25 August 2010.
Post by Shannon Miller, coordinator for Defenders’ Florida program.
On Saturday, August 21st, over 35 members and staff from Defenders of Wildlife and Ocean Conservancy met at the South Skyway Fishing Pier in Palmetto, Florida for another successful “Coastline Cleanup.” In less than four hours, participants collected over 2,000 pounds of marine debris and trash! A cleanup effort at the same site three months ago collected a similar amount.
Beach cleanups make a big difference for our community and our wildlife. Each year, hundreds of animals such as birds, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins are injured, maimed or killed by marine debris in the Tampa Bay area alone. Removing the debris from beaches and coastal waters is the best way to eliminate this deadly threat, and also prevents the debris from becoming hazardous material should it come into contact with oil – requiring a much more complicated and dangerous cleanup process.
We still do not know the extent of the harm that the millions of gallons of oil and toxic dispersants from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster will have on our marine environment and wildlife. But by cleaning up the coastline now, we hope to give Gulf wildlife a fighting chance for survival. Thank you to all of our volunteers that came out on Saturday, we truly appreciate your help, without you this event would not be possible. We thank you and especially our wildlife thanks you!
Stay tuned for our next cleanup by checking the Event Calendar on the Defenders of Wildlife website and please make sure you are on our email list.
To find out how you can help protect wildlife in the Gulf no matter where you live, visit www.gulfoilspillrecovery.org.
Posted in Features, Heroes, Marine Animals, Offshore Drilling, Southeast
Posted on 19 August 2010.
In the aftermath of the Gulf oil disaster, Defenders of Wildlife received hundreds of phone calls and emails from concerned Americans wondering what they could do to help wildlife and coastal habitat impacted by the catastropic spill. Having already built a tool called the Conservation Registry to track and map conservation projects across the country, we decided to create a section of the site geared specifically toward people looking to aid in Gulf response and recovery.
With the help of Google Maps, the Gulf Oil Spill Recovery website combines the latest locations of oil along with information on important wildlife habitats. Users are able to see what impacts have occurred, response steps taken already and what projects still need volunteers. The interactive site also invites people to record the impacts they have witnessed themselves, and spread the word about what areas need help most.
Proud that Defenders is using Google Earth as a tool to help change the world, a video explaining the site is being featured on Google Earth Heroes – a program that salutes ordinary individuals achieving extraordinary goals and shares their stories in the hopes that they will inspire even more initiatives to help make the world a better place.
Visit the Gulf Oil Spill Response and Recovery website at gulfoilspillrecovery.org and see how YOU can be a hero.
Posted in Features, Heroes, Offshore Drilling, Southeast, Video
Posted on 06 August 2010.
See an interview with Defenders chief scientist Chris Haney as he reflects on his recent trip down to the Gulf, carrying out a project aboard NOAA’s ”Nancy Foster” as part of an official federal response to the Gulf oil disaster. Chris was looking for the kinds of damages that marine life had experienced as a result of the spill, specifically signs of oiling, signs of distress, any carcasses or dead birds and the general abundance of seabirds found very far away from land.
“Looking at the oil as the sun broke the horizon, it was a rainbow sheen of oil as far as you could see. It was, quite honestly, the ugliest ocean water I’ve ever seen.”
Posted in Features, Offshore Drilling, Southeast, Video
Posted on 26 July 2010.
It has now been a few days since I returned home from the science expedition aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster. Here in Washington, DC, the heat is even more oppressive than it was down there on the Gulf coast. Our weekend weather is supposed to top 100 degrees. Re-entering terrestrial life itself takes a surprising bit of adjusting, especially diving so abruptly into the frantic pace that drives all modern life.
Scarcely have I caught up on rest, unpacked equipment, and backed up data, and it is time to do it all over again. There are two NOAA expeditions heading into the Gulf and departing before the end of July. Only this time it would not be me going along: I had hired two observers to go instead. One was to depart Pascagoula on July 24; the other was leaving out of Key West on July 29.
Tropical Storm Bonnie, courtesy of NOAA
But now, a newly formed Tropical Storm, called “Bonnie,” is aiming at both departure ports! Each observer is jittery when we speak by phone. And not because they are worried about the waves, swell and wind. Rather, they are afraid the ships won’t go at all, that the projects will be canceled. Disappointment in their voices prompts me to offer faith-based platitudes that the research is too important to ditch, and the ships will indeed get out eventually. I understand such enthusiasm for exploration all too well.
Some readers may wonder why I’ve not talked in more detail about the seabird results, at least those I’ve been able to interpret so far between all of the logistical juggling. All science relies upon external review, so I’m reluctant to draw firm conclusions without critical input from my peers. But there is another reason for my reticence. Some of these data may be sensitive because of their evidentiary value in gauging the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. There is a right way and a wrong way to disclose such information, and I certainly wish to the do the former.
What I can say is that I am barely able to contain excitement over the preliminary results. I spent two evenings this week plotting locations of seabirds that we encountered along the research track of the Nancy Foster. These locations were then superimposed on various maps of the Gulf’s oceanographic features. Despite the ocean looking flat and featureless to our eyes, it is neither. Satellites and shipboard sensors show that seabirds in the eastern Gulf of Mexico pick their locations smartly. It would be bitter irony indeed if their foraging skill in finding these feeding hotspots puts them at risk of injury through oil contamination.
Posted in Offshore Drilling, Southeast