Changes to oiled bird rescue now in place - - The News for South Mississippi

Changes to oiled bird rescue now in place

WLOX News captured video of oil covered pelicans on Ship Island Friday. Cleanup teams later reported that they could not locate the oiled birds. WLOX News captured video of oil covered pelicans on Ship Island Friday. Cleanup teams later reported that they could not locate the oiled birds.

By Krystal Allan – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A situation involving birds on Ship Island has resulted in changes to rescue operations for oiled birds. The goal, according to Mississippi officials working out of unified command in Mobile, is to get wildlife the help they need as quickly as possible.

The changes stem from reports that oiled birds were left for hours on Ship Island. Members of the Sierra Club say initial calls were made Thursday reporting the oiled birds, follow-up calls were made on Friday, July 2nd.

The on-site coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality out of Mobile's unified command, Richard Harrell, addressed the issue in two reports. They detailed what happened from Thursday, July 1st through Saturday, July 3rd.

It's still unclear what happened to the birds WLOX crews captured video of on Ship Island on Friday. But, what is known according to one of two incident reports is that at some point on July 2nd, "a team was able to survey the island and reported they were unable to locate the reported birds." 

The reports indicated there were many birds, at one point, on the island and they flew away as crews surveyed the scene.

Another factor that might have caused the delay was miscommunication and problems with dispatch. The Sierra Club's state President, Louie Miller, reported problems with dispatch when he called the response hotline in Houston.

One of the reports said, "the dispatcher made decisions outside of his purview and did not follow set procedures to obtain accurate information.  This individual has been released and the procedures are reviewed with each dispatcher at the beginning of their work shift."

Though the oiled pelicans were not found, the team did find four dead seagulls on Friday, July 2nd.

Harrell said weather was likely the overriding factor in getting vessel of opportunity boats out to the island as the situation unfolded on Thursday, July 1st.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife, as well as representatives from MDEQ met Saturday to map out changes to improve response times in cases involving inclement weather.

Among the changes, calls will be dispatched directly through the Department of Marine Resources, which has access to larger vessels, instead of going through unified command Mobile.  If the situation calls for additional resources, the Mississippi Air National Guard will be called in to help with oiled bird rescues.  In addition, there will now be eight, two person wildlife recovery teams instead of six.

If weather is not an issue, normal protocol for oiled bird rescue will be followed. The calls will be directed to unified command in Mobile. From Mobile, a vessels of opportunity boat will be dispatched to respond to bird rescue.

The Chair of the Gulf Coast Mississippi Sierra Club, Steve Shepard had this to say about the changes.

"It sounds like the changes are an improvement. I think that having larger vessels available so we can go out in rougher weather to rescue birds is definitely an improvement, and it's something that's necessary. We should be saving as many birds as possible," Shepard said.

Harrell said though improvements have been made to the process, it's never going to be perfect due to conditions that are sometimes out of their control.

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