Oil spill could put Least Terns in jeopardy - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Oil spill could put Least Terns in jeopardy

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) – It's the middle of their nesting season and as many as 2,000 Least Terns have made themselves at home along the beaches in Biloxi, Gulfport, and Pass Christian. The largest and newest colony can be found across from Beauvoir.

"We're out there actually doing a photographic count right now," said Dr. Mark LaSalle, Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is documenting the Least Tern population ahead of a massive oil spill that is creeping closer to the Mississippi coastline.

"It's just a documentation of what's here," said LaSalle.  "We hope it doesn't come, but if it does, we'll know what we've lost."

When asked if he thinks it could be catastrophic, LaSalle responded, "Could be. Absolutely. We lose the whole colony."

The information will be shared with various agencies that are trying to protect wildlife and shorelines in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Jan Dubuisson said she felt helpless and wondered what could happen to the tiny protected birds and their fragile eggs if they're exposed to toxic oil.  She is a member of the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society.

"When they dive through the water, if there's an oil slick on the water, the birds are going to get oil.  They're not going to be able to fly, and they're not going to be able to feed themselves and their chicks," said Dubuisson.

Audubon members are working with wildlife groups and coordinating volunteers to help clean any oil-soaked birds.

"I don't think there's any way we could deal with them quickly enough to save all the birds that it will be impacted," said Dubuisson.

"If they can't cut the oil off at the bottom of the ocean, this could be going on for weeks. And the longer it goes, the worse it could be. It doesn't look good," said LaSalle.

Audubon members say the Least Tern eggs will be hatching in a few weeks and the chicks could be in danger, if the oil continues to spread.

If you happen to come across an injured bird or animal, don't touch it.  Instead, call this hotline to report it: 1-866-557-1401.

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