GULF SHORES, Ala. – Today, Alabama Unified Command’s efforts to recover wildlife along the Gulf Coast were enhanced with the donation of a special boat from singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.
The popular entertainer has donated a boat to help recover oil-soaked wildlife. The boat, built by Dragonfly Boatworks in Vero Beach, Fla., was designed specifically to navigate the shallow waters and marshes of the Gulf Coast to retrieve injured wildlife.
The boat will play an important role in the efforts of Alabama Unified Command to ensure that local wildlife are rescued and transported to rehabilitation centers.
The vessel was given to the Friends of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, a non-profit organization that supports Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located in coastal Alabama and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Alabama Unified Command is excited to be working with the local community to do all we can to address the needs of wildlife affected by the oil spill,” said Pete Benjamin, a Fish and Wildlife employee with Mobile Wildlife Operations. “This new asset will improve our efforts to rescue wildlife and ensure that animals are cared for and rehabilitated.”
“We are going to ensure the boat is provided to the wildlife recovery teams, which will patrol the shallow areas around Bon Secour and Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuges along with other sensitive places,” said Ralph Gilges, President of the Friends of Bon Secour NWR.
Shallow Water Attention Terminal (S.W.A.T.) boats are built on a flat hull and operate in waters as shallow as 8-10 inches. This particular boat was designed by Mark Castlow and Jimbo Meador, co-owners of Dragonfly Boatworks, who recognized the need for a boat with the ability to operate in shallow waters and marshy areas.
“The folks from Dragonfly Boatworks are thrilled to help: I’m excited we have a relationship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that the boat will be used for what it was intended,” said co-owner Jimbo Meador.
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jereme Phillips lauded the duo.
“Castlow and Meador recognized a need, identified a solution, and made it happen with the help of Jimmy Buffett,” said Phillips. “Friends of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, our refuge support group, closed the loop to facilitate the donation by accepting the boat on behalf of the Refuge. We are immensely grateful to Mr. Buffett for his gift and concern for our treasured wildlife.”
The Dragonfly co-owners have been working nonstop for weeks to modify a popular design for shallow-draft fishing boats, literally turning them into mobile triage wards for oiled wildlife. Designed specifically with wildlife rescue in mind, it has a canopy to protect workers and birds from the sun and a table to make it easier to examine wildlife. The boat also has a misting system to provide further cooling and is equipped with Wi-Fi and video cameras to enable remote viewing of the rescue operations.
The boat is scheduled to begin wildlife recovery operations during the week of July 19.
Greg Vergari, wildlife recovery operations coordinator, will be selecting a two-person crew trained for the safe recovery of injured wildlife. The crew will follow standard wildlife rescue protocol, which quickly transports recovered animals to nearby treatment centers.
“The S.W.A.T boat will be added to the fleet of 14 wildlife recovery boats, and it will work initially around our local national wildlife refuges,” stated Vergari. “The crew can inspect habitat conditions for oil contamination while they search for injured wildlife.”
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of Alabama's best-kept secrets and protects a variety of habitats. For more information on Bon Secour, log on to: http://www.fws.gov/bonsecour/.