A Message from Frank Gill

Rescue workers recover a brown pelican
Photo by Kim Hubbard/Audubon Magazine
Rescue workers recover a brown pelican

As these words are written, deadly crude continues to spew from a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico.  Amid the horror of the Gulf disaster, images of birds again serve as the most visible indicators of damage to our environment and of hope for the future.

Once again, a crisis for people, for wildlife and for birds demands all the commitment and expertise we can muster.  And again, the Audubon network is delivering.

As the crisis mounted, Audubon chapters across the Gulf coast took action. In Louisiana, Baton Rouge Audubon helped develop a protocol for reporting on oiled birds, while also assessing protection needs at nearby sanctuaries.  They, along with Orleans Audubon, began reporting on birds' status as the oil moved in.

Meanwhile, in Alabama the Mobile Bay Audubon Society deployed teams of trained volunteers to monitor impacts on birds and beaches along that state's coastline.  Chapters of the Suncoast Shorebird Partnership, along with the Francis M. Weston Audubon Society, Collier County Audubon and the Coastal Island Sanctuaries, all came together to provide information on vital bird habitats to aid Florida's Fish and Wildlife Commission in establishing protection priorities.

They were not alone.  State and National Audubon staff immediately launched efforts to help coordinate on-the-scene volunteer support for emergency response crews across the region.  Though the disaster was unfolding in slow motion, they anticipated the need for far more volunteer help.  Now, a fully-functioning Audubon Volunteer Response Center is operating in Moss Point, Mississippi.  More than 30,000 people nationwide have registered to lend a hand.  And there is plenty to be done.

Opposing images from the Gulf help to tell the story.  We are all too familiar with sickening pictures of oiled and dying birds, among them Brown Pelicans, only recently removed from the Endangered Species List.  Yet when I travelled to the Gulf just weeks ago, I saw scores of thriving pelicans nesting on an island in Mobile Bay awaiting the arrival of their next generation.

Audubon's Melanie Driscoll talks with newly-trained Coastal Bird Survey volunteers Eleanor Livaudais and John Borom of the Mobile Bay (Alabama) Audubon Society.   
Photo by Bruce Reid

We can't yet know how many of that new generation hatched in the Gulf will survive and how many will die.  As southbound migrating sandpipers arrive in early summer, it is likely that many will never continue their journeys.  What will become of the Reddish Egrets, Least Terns, Mottled Ducks or Seaside Sparrows that have been trying to nest along the shores?  Without a doubt, the future health of countless birds and habitats depends, in part, on us.  We will fight to restore the health of Important Bird Areas fouled by the spill.  But our efforts must extend further.

Audubon's unique network can show Americans how birds connect us all to the Gulf, and how we can help them.  Conservation and citizen science efforts will provide new insights into the spill's impacts on populations in the Gulf and beyond.  Habitat and IBA protection will take on greater significance nationwide.

Though not everyone can take direct action to save a pelican or an oiled habitat, we can all protect vital flyways and healthy populations to benefit species impacted by the disaster--from Common Loons in the Great Lakes to Ospreys in a mountain lake in Montana. Together, we can empower volunteers flocking to respond to the spill to make vital contributions that will make a difference, while still working closer to home.

Our collective responses must include redoubling our efforts to secure saner policies to protect fragile resources from risky energy extraction wherever it might occur.  The Arctic Sea was given only a short-term reprieve from misguided deepwater drilling in the wake of the disaster--we must make it permanent.  We need stricter regulation of deepwater drilling to make sure that accidents like the Gulf spill never happen again. And we can use the grim realities of the spill to further strengthen our push for a cleaner, safer and renewable energy future.

The Gulf disaster is truly America's crisis and it demands our unified response. It is hard to say how long it will take to restore the well-being of the birds, other wildlife and communities that depend on the Gulf.  But Audubon is in it for the long haul to ensure not just emergency relief, but long-term restoration of the environment and of hope.  Along the way, our combined conservation efforts can benefit birds, habitats and communities across America.