Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pelicans of Racoon Island

Dammit I'm tired of crying.

From AP via nola dot com:

Biologists say oil has smeared at least 300 pelicans and hundreds of terns in the largest seabird nesting area along the Louisiana coast -- marking a sharp and sudden escalation in wildlife harmed by BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The government counts only oiled birds collected for rehabilitation or found dead, for use as evidence in the spill investigation. Oiled birds in the many nesting areas that dot the Gulf coast typically are left in place and not counted in official tallies.

Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology said Wednesday that they had spotted the oiled pelicans on Raccoon Island over the past several days. The spit of land lines the Gulf outside the state's coastal marshes. An estimated 10,000 birds nest on the island in Terrebonne Parish.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Lisa Williams said state and federal observers had documented only 68 oiled pelicans on Raccoon Island.

Biologist Marc Dantzker with Cornell -- considered one of the nation's premier institutions for bird research -- said about 30 to 40 of the pelicans spotted by his group were oiled "head-to-tail." Many more had visible blotches of oil.

Dead birds also were seen, although no count was available for those.

"This is a major oiling event of an incredibly important seabird colony," Dantzker said. "Many of these birds will be dead soon -- weeks and months. These blotches are deadly."

Even a small amount of oil can kill birds because it hampers their ability to regulate their body temperature.

The Raccoon Island colony was established by the state in the 1980s. Its successful expansion epitomized restoration efforts that brought brown pelicans off the endangered species list last year.

Oil from the spill 50 miles off the coast hit the island on July 10, after Hurricane Alex drove high seas into the region as it passed to the south, according to Louisiana officials. And with millions of gallons of crude still at sea it could be hit again.

"This is not like Exxon Valdez where you had tens of thousands of birds killed all at once," said Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell laboratory. "It's more insidious because it is literally happening in waves and it's happening over and over again as the birds are moving around."

Dantzker said he was surprised the government's number was so low and speculated that they used a different method to count oiled birds.

"Come out and look with us," he said. "If you're on the island and using binoculars you will see those birds."

Across the Gulf, roughly 3,000 killed or oil-covered birds have been collected by wildlife agencies since BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank on April 20, killing 11 workers.

Williams, the wildlife official, declined to say how many more birds that were not collected might have oil on them. She said those figures were being compiled, but the results would not be available for some time.

As has been the case with other nesting colonies, Williams said her agency did not plan to rescue the oiled birds from Raccoon Island because that could disrupt other birds in the colony. Entering a colony can flush nesting birds and lead to adults inadvertently killing their young.

"We don't want to cause more harm than good," Williams said

From deepwater horizon website
Raccoon Island, off the coast of Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana, is being closely monitored for the impact of oil on wildlife that inhabits the land mass that is part of the Isle Dernieres Barrier Island Refuge.

Managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), Raccoon Island provides habitat for one of the largest nesting colonies in the state. Consequently, LDWF biologists as well as biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been monitoring the island daily and following carefully crafted protocols that consider the overall health and safety of the bird colony when recovery of oiled birds is considered. The protocols require that bird colonies are not to be disturbed unless a large percentage of the birds are oiled, or heavily oiled individuals are accessible without causing increased colony stress or oiling. The number and extent of oiled birds currently observed on Raccoon Island do not meet the requirements of the protocols.

Federal and state biologists surveying the island have confirmed hundreds of birds have visible oil ranging from light to heavy. These observations have also been made by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which has a video crew recording the impacts of the oil spill on wildlife.
It is difficult to assess the exact number of oiled birds and the situation is being monitored daily. In addition to approximately 20,000 nesting pairs of birds present, estimates of another 35,000 adults, immature birds, and chicks comprise a population of concern to state and federal biologists. Approximately 2,500 pairs are pelicans and the other birds are terns, gulls, and wading birds such as herons and egrets.

“We fully support the efforts of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and other officials in the region to monitor and assess the impacts on birds and other wildlife," said Ken Rosenberg, Director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We know it is too early to assess the full impacts of the oil spill on birds. The Cornell Lab's video crew has not been involved in official survey efforts, but they have estimated the numbers of birds at their filming locations based on what they could see. In particular, we absolutely support the policies and decision-making of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding efforts to recover and rehabilitate badly oiled birds,” Rosenberg said. “They are doing a great job of ensuring that the harm to wildlife is minimized.”

“The majority of affected birds observed by the Cornell team had small amounts of oil on their feathers, and would not warrant capture and recovery efforts that could disturb and further endanger these sensitive colonies. The longer-term population impacts from these lightly oiled birds are of concern, however, and continued monitoring is critical,” concludes Rosenberg.

Of the 68 heavily oiled birds observed on July 10, 14, and 15, six were rescued safely by LDWF biologists based on protocols observed by these biologists working on the bird rescue mission. No rescues are attempted on the island where rescue activity would disturb unoiled or slightly oiled birds, and increase the possibility of putting additional birds at risk.

The rescue of oiled wildlife impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to be an important mission for the LDWF and the USFWS. State and federal field biologists patrol coastal waters and marshes daily searching for wildlife in distress, including thousands of coastal shorebirds, wading birds and migratory species.

No comments: