Responding to the Effects of Oiled Wildlife

In early August, the tanker Solar I sank off the coast of Guimaras Island in the Philippines. The outflow of 50,000 gallons of oil engulfed over 125 miles of the once pristine coastline with a thick sludge, damaging more than 1,000 acres of mangrove forests and seaweed plantations, according to Guimaras Governor Joaquin Nava. Not only has this been deemed the worst oil spill in the Philippines history, but environmentalists have also called the tanker now resting on the seabed a "ticking time bomb."

Conservationists' frustration and concern has mounted as time passes without a decision as to how to raise the tanker, currently sitting beneath almost 3,000 feet of water and containing 450,000 gallons of still-leaking oil. As the Philippines waits for recommendations from experts, former Environment Secretary Angel Alcala fears "some species of fish, shells and birds may disappear from the area due to the destruction of the mangroves and coral that serve as their spawning and feeding grounds." It may take up to three decades for the coral reefs and mangrove forests torecoverin full.

Approximately 3 billion gallons of oil are used every day across the globe, creating hazardous conditions for wildlife when spills and pollution occur. Careless and accidental oil spills from tankers and barges account for only about 15 percent of the oil entering our oceans each year, but they still account for "most of the world's largest oil spills," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Since 1960, these large oil spills have occurred in the waters of 112 nations. The Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the northeastern United States and the Mediterranean Sea are considered the top three "hotspots" for spills by Oil Spill Intelligence Report analysts.

Environmental and economic effects are immediate, enormous and long-term to the areas they devastate. Nearby residents may lose their livelihoods when fishing and tourists industries are destroyed or closed. And inevitably, marine mammals and birds are harmed in myriad ways. Oiled birds may perish from being completely or only partially covered with oil. Pollution to the habitats of the animals who survive the initial impact can include contamination of food sources and of nesting and dwelling sites, reduction of the number of breeding animals and plants that provide future food stocks, and a lessening of their breeding success.

Fortunately, a handful of organizations in the United States are capable of responding to wildlife involved in large-scale oil spills. Founded in 1976 after a major spill in the Delaware River, Newark, Del.'s Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research operates an Oil Spill Response program with a dedicated staff trained to respond to these crises around the world. Tri-State's methodology emphasizes the need for a collaborative effort among responsible parties, state and federal wildlife professionals, regulatory agencies, concerned citizens and peers. To learn more, please visit Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research's website at www.tristatebird.org.

On the West Coast, International Bird Rescue (Bird Rescue) was founded in 1971 after the collision of two oil tankers under the Golden Gate Bridge. This unfortunate accident released 900,000 gallons of crude oil into the San Francisco Bay, killing over 6,500 birds despite devoted volunteer efforts. Today, through its Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay wildlife care centers, Bird Rescue continues its mission of responding to wildlife injured or threatened by oil spills. For more information, visit the International Bird Rescue website at www.Bird-Rescue.org.