Paying the Price

June 11th, 2010 by Webmaster


Christopher Richter for SWSS (MMS, ONR, Oregon State, Texas A&M)

Who is affected when our politicians allow oil rigs to tear ever deeper into our earth to suck out more precious black life force? Who will suffer when the oil companies push past scientific reasoning and into the no man’s land of drilling, throwing caution to the wind for a few more gallons of crude oil? Before tragedy strikes, no one wants to answer these questions, but now we can all see that it is our precious ocean’s irreparable ecosystems and innocent wildlife who have and will pay the price for one oil company’s deadly mistakes.

More than a month ago a fireball went up in the Gulf Coast signaling the beginning of the worst oil spill in our nation’s history. Eleven men lost their lives that night, and since then death has seeped out into the waters along with the toxic sludge. With 500,000 to one million gallons leaking into the Gulf every day, I do not think that any of us can begin to wrap our heads around the sheer volume of this colossal, devastating spill.

The suffering endured by marine wildlife and the destruction to their habitats is beyond comprehension.  Some of the animals wash ashore bloated by death, having lost their brief battle with the sticky, suffocating oil. Others struggle to survive, gasping through thick masks of the filthy liquid. Oil coats the feathers of the unfortunate birds, destroying their insulation. Other birds try frantically to clean themselves, ingesting the toxic oil and dying slowly from poisoning.

The effects of the oil spill on wildlife materialized slowly at first, but now there is a veritable gush of death and destruction on the shores of four Gulf States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  (USFWS) reported Wednesday that the wildlife rescue center in Fort Jackson, La., had received more than five times as many oiled birds in the past few days than in the previous six weeks combined, bringing the total to more than 400 birds.

As of June 10, the USFWS has reported more than 1,500 birds, sea turtles, marine mammals, and reptiles collected alive and dead in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida combined. This can only be a small fraction of the total number of animals suffering and dying underwater or on remote shores.

The USFWS further reports a total of 35 National Wildlife Refuges at risk from the BP oil spill.  Imagine these once-pristine beaches and grassy marshes covered in stinking, putrid oil. They were a sanctuary for some of the most endangered species in our country, and now they are annihilating, toxic wastelands.

Currently, BP has mandated that only paid BP employees may touch any oiled surface (this includes wildlife). So in order to enter the scene a responder must be a BP employee or contractor with hazmat training, oiled wildlife training, and many other qualifications. Only a few small groups of highly trained individuals are permitted to clean and care for affected animals. This leaves most of us feeling powerless to help during a tragedy of such magnitude.
In Defense of Animals has already come out against offshore drilling, but we must all find ways in our everyday lives to fight the paths that lead to this cruel tragedy. I also urge you all to reach out to your local representatives and state senators and demand that they pressure BP to open affected areas to qualified wildlife rescuers. Those who are qualified to save these animals’ lives must be allowed to gain access to them.

Going forward we must funnel our frustrations into breaking down the barrier that is keeping much-needed responders from helping and voicing our concerns over excessive drilling and unsafe practices. And when the time comes, IDA will be there to do whatever we can for the animals affected by this infernal abyss.