Gulf in despair at oil tragedy: rescuer

Julie Clarke at the pelican rehabilitation centre at Fort Jackson. Washed and cleaned baby pelicans in a compound at Fort Jackson, Louisiana, before release.
Nanjing Night Net

Wollongong wildlife rescuer Julie Clarke has returned from the United States with heartbreaking tales of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.The founder of Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR) South Coast spent 12 days on the US southern coastline, working desperately to rescue and rehabilitate oil-covered pelicans and other birds.”I was quite prepared emotionally but when I got there it was a matter of getting my head around the fact that this isn’t stopping,” she said.”The oil is still not capped and there’s no end in sight for this at the moment.”Alongside other international volunteers, Ms Clarke spent time cleaning birds at the International Bird Rescue Research Centre in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, as well as teaching people in the communities how to identify and capture sick and oiled birds.”We spent a lot of time on active patrols, looking for sick and injured birds,” she said.”There are lots of chicks coming in now, which is tragic.”Ms Clarke said one of the saddest days was dealing with more than 300 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. The critically endangered creatures were brought to one of the rescue centres but only 18 survived.Traumatic images of oil-saturated sea creatures have caused outrage across the world and scientists have predicted the situation will worsen dramatically in coming weeks and months until the spill is capped. Birds that sit on top of the water, such as pelicans, have been among the worst affected. Ms Clarke said it had been heartbreaking to watch these birds slowly drown under the weight of their oil-logged feathers on occasions when no boat had been available to conduct a rescue.She said human spirit in the coastal communities was low, likening many of the areas to ghost towns.”Everyone in the community is still reeling after the effects of Hurricane Katrina,” she said.”There’s such a lot of uncertainty, confusion and despair. People are still so concerned for their future.”Ms Clarke said ASR now hopes to develop oil response workshops for wildlife carers in Australia.

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