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Bad Place, Bad Timing for an Oil Spill

SEE RECENT POSTS: Slideshow: Life as usual—and oil spill’s effects—evident in Louisiana, Ways to help: eBird adds ability to record oiled birds, Oil Update: Leak still not capped; larger spill estimates, Looking Back on Wildlife Cleanup in a 1990 Oil Spill, eBird Gadget Tracks Gulf Coast Sightings

Estimates of oil spill jump higher, (to 60,000 barrels per day; New York Times)
Report from Melanie Driscoll, La Audubon, on oiled colonies and efforts to save oiled birds within them, (LABIRD listserv)
In case of storm, spill containment and relief drilling could be suspended, (New York Times)
Sea turtle swims through oil to nest on Alabama beach, (L.A. Times)
Report of oiled birds and vehicles driving through Least Tern Colony on Grand Isle, (LABIRD listserv)
New estimates double rate of spill in Gulf, (New York Times)
Cornell University team studying oil spill impact on wildlife, (WSYR TV, Syracuse, interview with Cornell Lab’s Ken Rosenberg)
In Louisiana marshes, a crude awakening, (NBC Nightly News, with interviews with Cornell Lab team)
Young bird artist amps up oil spill relief efforts, (Audubon blog)
Ingredients of controversial dispersants used on Gulf oil spill are secrets no more, (New York Times)
Scientists refute Obama’s 3-year cleanup prediction, (Fiscal Times)
BP plans to burn some oil pumping up to surface, (New York Times)
Even with a cleanup, spilled oil stays with us, (New York Times)
Birds in Barataria Bay hit hard, (L.A. Times)
Twelve (imperfect) ways to clean the Gulf, (New York Times op-ed)
Gulf oil spill: Wildlife toll grows as more oil washes ashore, (L.A. Times)
Pelicans, back from brink of extinction, face oil threat, (New York Times)
Birds frozen in oil: Image of a desperate summer, (National Public Radio)
Mississippi Audubon to host volunteer bird monitoring training Mon., June 7
, (Erik Johnson via
’79 Gulf oil spill leaves sobering lessons for BP, (Associated Press)
Florida coast suffers first impact from oil spill, (Reuters)
Oil spill answers from bird conservation expert on the ground, (Audubon)
10 biggest oil spills in history, (Popular Mechanics)
Pensacola [Florida] readies for Gulf oil spill fallout, (Miami-Dade Breaking News)
BP oil spill: worst in history; scientists weigh in, (Fiscal Times, with quote from Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick)
Gulf oil spill has ‘perfect precedent’ in 1979 disaster, (Miami Herald)
Daily map and forecast updates, (Deepwater Horizon response team)
BP halts “top kill” effort to seal leaking oil well, (New York Times)
Where oil has made landfall, (New York Times infographic)
“Top kill” effort succeeds, Coast Guard admiral says, (LA Times)
A history of major oil spills, (New York Times infographic, with archived articles)
The great unknowns in Gulf oil spill, (Newsweek)
Day 36: What’s happening with the Gulf oil spill, (
Bird conservationist weighs in on oil spill, (National Public Radio interview with Audubon’s Melanie Driscoll)
Audubon important bird areas at risk from the Gulf oil spill, (Audubon interactive map)
Alabama: What this spill could do to coastal marshes, (Nature Conservancy Cool Green Science blog)
BP is sticking with its dispersant choice, (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Map of the oil spill in the Gulf
, (interactive map from New York Times)
Day 33: Heavy oil and carnage to Grand Terre Island, (American Birding Association blog)
Oil gushes from BP well as scientists study leak size, (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)
BP defends dispersant after EPA orders it changed, (Wall Street Journal)
U.S. agency overseeing oil drilling ignored warning of risks from its own scientists, (Washington Post)
What oil does to a saltmarsh, (Washington Post infographic)
Photos: Disaster unfolds slowly in the Gulf of Mexico, (Boston Globe)
Battle to contain Gulf oil spill continues (SeaWeb)
Oil slick enters the loop current (DC birding blog)
Giant plumes of oil forming under the Gulf (New York Times)
What are oil dispersants? (CNN)
Compare size of oil spill to size of major world cities, (Google Earth)
Bird rescuers helping in Gulf, (
A parents’ guide to the Gulf oil spill, (Wired magazine)
The birds of Breton Island, (on-the-scene report from Natural Resources Defense Council staff)
NOAA Deepwater Horizon Incident Emergency Response with current and forecast maps, progress updates
Oil spill crisis map compiles sightings from the public, (Louisiana Bucket Brigade)
Exxon Valdez: a glimpse of the future for Louisiana?, (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
FAQ: How oil-covered birds are cleaned, (Audubon)
Concerns up and down the food chain, (New York Times)
How bad is the oil spill? Ask the pelicans, Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick’s op-ed on
U.S. Gulf Coast bird colonies at risk from oil spill, (Reuters)
eBirders mobilize! Help survey Gulf Coast birds, (
Monitoring oil spill effects from Cornell
, TV news (video)
Interactive oil spill map from ESRI (makers of GIS software)
Feds raise pressure on BP over oil spill
, with comments from Ken Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spill response website
Bird Habitats Threatened by Oil Spill, National Wildlife Federation lists the 10 most threatened
Oil Spill’s Potential Effects on Gulf’s Wildlife, CBS News
Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes, New York Times article and video
Time magazine update, with quote from Cornell Lab’s director of conservation science, Ken Rosenberg
Get official oil spill updates on Twitter or Facebook
Official spill response website joint product of U.S. Coast Guard, Dept. of Homeland Security, NOAA, Dept. of the Interior, BP, and TransOcean
Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf. Wall Street Journal (subscription)
Gulf Coast birds in danger. Audubon interim president Frank Gill writes an editorial about birds and oil drilling at
Report oiled wildlife at 866-557-1401 or volunteer to help

There’s never a good time or place for an oil spill, but the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is particularly bad. Our hearts go out to the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and their families. Since the rig sank on April 22, attention has turned to the growing slick of oil that now covers some 600 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and continues to grow by an estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) per day.

Spring tides and southerly winds are pushing the oil toward the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida, where delicate saltmarshes support a productive marine ecosystem, and barrier islands provide vulnerable nest sites for Brown Pelicans, Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and many other species.

The timing is bad, too. It’s the peak of spring migration, and thousands upon thousands of shorebirds and songbirds will be crossing the Gulf of Mexico in the next few weeks. After flying nonstop from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, many of these birds will touch down on the first land they see—the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Late April and early May have in years past been magical days for Gulf Coast birdwatchers because of the stream of newly molted, spring-bright birds that come through. This year, there is likely to be oil waiting for them.

This disaster is being covered in detail in the news. We’ll monitor developments on this blog and highlight anything particularly relevant to migrating and breeding birds of the region. For now, these links may useful:

The National Audubon Society has issued a detailed assessment of the risks faced by birds of the region.

The New York Times has a map showing the oil spill’s extent as of April 29 and the locations of particularly vulnerable wildlife, including whales, tuna, and five species of birds. Their Lede blog is updating frequently.

For background, this BBC News article written last year, on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, summarizes lessons learned from that disaster.

Discovery News quotes shorebird researcher Nils Warnock about what concerned people should—and shouldn’t—do if they see oiled wildlife.

The Cornell Lab would like to send sympathy, good luck, and best wishes to the people and the birds of Louisiana and the northern Gulf Coast.

(Image: White-rumped Sandpiper by Tim Lenz via Birdshare)


  1. Roger P.
    Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Has the Lab of O considered hosting an online fundraising campaign for birds and habitats affected by the spill? I am just asking because the Lab of O has so many members, is so respectable, could get a lot of support from its members – this is all assuming that the sanctuaries and parks affected by the spill foresee being in financial need because of it. It might be a good project for somebody over there at the Lab, who knows. Thanks for taking the time to update about the spill – it really has been horrific to watch unfold.

    • ross powers
      Posted May 1, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      The responsible party (BP) pays for any rehab. efforts for wildlife.

  2. Lee Hollimon
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    I am so glad this issue is being discussed as I have been most fretful for the birds and other animals along the Gulf Coast. However, I am disabled and can’t travel there to help, I’m frustrated about not know which charity is reputable.
    I would think Audobon would be helping but I’ve not seen anything on TV or in print to confirm this.
    Any suggestions for what I can do?
    Thank you,

    • Hugh
      Posted May 3, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Hi and thanks for your concern. Two places to sign up to offer your help or to donate are the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
      and the International Bird Rescue Research Center
      – Hugh

    • joeciolino
      Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      As I am a bird lover and environmentalist, BP and others know there’s only one way to save our wildlife and putting a stop to this tragic situation.
      IMPLODE THE BP WELL NOW! This well is most likely drilled 500 to 1,000 feet below the sea floor. One implosion charge driven into that well would cave in the entire length of pipe(s), and stop this. However, due to the fact that BP may not get another drilling permit, 1/10th of the nation’s population must suffer, along with hundreds of species of wildlife. QUESTION: Why hasn’t anyone mentioned imploding the well, caving in the walls, which are sunk 500+ feet below the ocean floor – VERY STRANGE?

  3. Lee Hollimon
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Since the oil rig exploded and lives were lost,I’ve been sad.
    With the oil coming onshore to LA, MS, AL, and FL, I am feeling panicked.
    I live in N.E. MS and am unfamiliar with shore birds but it truly hurts my heart to think of their fate.
    I spent lots of time in Mamou, Eunice area and it’s all nostalgic to me and I feel devastated by what has happened to the 11 missing miners and the wildlife.’
    Thank you for taking the time to read this. It has relieved me somewhat.

    • joeciolino
      Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      There is a way to successfully put an end to this tragic situation, but until BP is assured a license to drill again in this area, it won’t happen – IMPLODE THE BP WELL NOW! This well is most likely drilled 500 to 1,000 feet below the sea floor. One implosion charge driven into that well would cave in the entire length of pipe(s), and stop this. However, due to the fact that BP may not get another drilling permit, 1/10th of the nation’s population must suffer, along with hundreds of species of wildlife. QUESTION: Why hasn’t anyone mentioned imploding the well, caving in the walls, which are sunk 500+ feet below the ocean floor – VERY STRANGE? Regards, Joe Ciolino

  4. isochroma
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful leak. I love the oily mass that bulges outwards from a bent pipe. A brown Rorschach blot of the automobile culture.

    My most fervent hope is that all efforts to stop and mitigate this masterwork are failures. The incontinent flow of hydrocarbons shall continue for the decay of all.

    I would love to see a sea of greasy Devil’s blood flowing into the ocean forever more. The spew that flew right on through.

    Then the World can move on into its next phase, the Dark Phase of death, decline and destruction. Soon, all the works of humans will decay and so too will themselves be brought to the altar of slaughter, to account for their crimes of existence.

  5. Posted May 25, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    so many birds can be found in Indonesia. oil spill hasn’t been a big issue but the garbage is.

  6. joeciolino
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Is there a blackout on how to successfully save our wildlife? I’m beginning to think so, as no reporter has once asked about imploding well below the sea floor?
    IMPLODE THE BP WELL NOW! This well is most likely drilled 500 to 1,000 feet below the sea floor. One implosion charge driven into that well would cave in the entire length of pipe(s), and stop this. However, due to the fact that BP may not get another drilling permit, 1/10th of the nation’s population must suffer, along with hundreds of species of wildlife. QUESTION: Why hasn’t anyone mentioned imploding the well, caving in the walls, which are sunk 500+ feet below the ocean floor – VERY STRANGE?

    • Hugh
      Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      I do believe this option has been discussed and set aside owing to the risk of further rupturing the reservoir, leading to a much larger spill.

      • joeciolino
        Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        Respectfully, I do not believe this to be so or better stated, ” that’s what they want us to believe” Why? If they implode the well (1/5) one fifth of a mile under the ocean floor, nothing is coming out. Let’s remember that they have to use heavy mud to try and keep the walls from caving in and loosing the oil flow, thus why in the 1900’s the one person that became the first major millionare, drilling in sand, did so, as a “what the heck, let’s do something with this heavy clay mud? The rest is history as to the Texas oil boom. A explosive charge at 1000″ below the floor will implode the well let alone heavy mud. BUT!!! Will they get new permits for all the wells that that horizontally (1000′ below the ocean floor)connect to this well head? Politically impossible, thus the entire coast, species, and possibly the gulf stream up to where Bermuda, Azores, Breat Britain?? This a major cover up in my opinion. If it were possible for the Admin. to agree to re-license BP, if they cave in the walls with a depth charge it would be over in a fews days. Odd how no one, no reporter, etc. dare bring this up? Weird and a bit scary. Joe

      • Hugh
        Posted June 3, 2010 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        There’s a fairly lengthy article addressing the idea of both nuclear and conventional explosives in the New York Times: Nuclear option on Gulf oil leak? No way, U.S. says

  7. Posted June 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    This is heartbreaking. There is a difference between an accident and an incident…accidents are unavoidable but incidents are not. Incidents result from careless indifference to generally accepted standards of prudent behavior. Failing to follow safe practices on an oil rig leads to incidents.
    I hope that innocent franchise owners who sell, hopefully not for much longer, BP products will be able to be compensated fully by BP
    If nothing else, a devasting boycott of BP may serve as a warning to other oil companies.
    Also, let’s all see what we can do to drive less and buy less transported items.

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