Christine is currently studying wildlife management in Kenya and Tanzania for the fall 2010 semester. She welcomes your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories like this one, please go to Hands On, our monthly e-newsletter.
Photo credit: Christine Chung, July 2010
Name: Christine Chung
Hometown: Woodridge, Illinois
SCA Work/Site Location: Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine, and temporarily assigned to Grand Isle, Louisiana, reconnaissance and recovery work
Dream job: National Geographic Photographer/Animal Planet Host
Favorite book: Secrets of the Savanna by Mark and Delia Owens
Favorite movie: Accepted
Favorite park: The park behind my old house in Forest Park, IL. In terms of national parks - I'd say it was Grand Canyon National Park
Most memorable SCA moment: The week I spent at the Grand Canyon with SCA Alternative Spring Break participants - ALL OF IT was a most incredible experience - from camping in ~18 degree weather to star-gazing on a cliff surrounded by close friends.
Background: As a child, I grew up in a suburb about 30 minutes outside of Chicago. So I lived and breathed a city girl lifestyle and was not too exposed nor interested in environmental matters, at the time. It wasn't until high school, when I joined an environmental club, that my interests in nature began to blossom. It was really my first internship as a Bear Management Intern at the Inyo National Forest in Mammoth Lakes, California through the Student Conservation Association when the fire inside of me was sparked. And ever since then, my interests and desire for experiences in all things related to natural resources have spread voraciously like a raging wildfire.
This summer, I have been engaged as a Student Conservation Association intern in coordination with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I served as a Resource Management Intern at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine, where I monitored federally threatened piping plover and state endangered least terns, managed habitat for the state endangered New England Cottontails, and assisted with various refuge tasks.
I was also responsible for conducting outreach programs on various topics of my choice.
For one of these, I chose to present on the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. I wanted to educate the public about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service response. During my research, I came across photographs taken by Charlie Riedel from the Associated Press. As I looked through his photos of oiled birds, one photograph jumped out and grabbed my heart. It was a bird so mired in oil that it was indistinguishable as to what species it was. Seeing that image, along with many other images of various bird species muddled brown with oil, struggling in a substance that was foreign to their natural habitat, made my heart break for these poor creatures. I wished I could do something about it. I knew I had to be there.
And so, with the support of my FWS supervisor Ward Feurt,other FWS Region 5 employees, and the people of Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, I was able to get a two-week assignment in the Gulf, where I had an amazing experience. You can see all my photos in a slideshow at the bottom of this page.
I have never felt so passionate and so inspired as I had been those 17 days. Speaking with members of the local community and hearing how their lives had changed for the worse due to the spill encouraged me to work as hard as I could as I felt intrinsic to the recovery process back to their normal lives. To work with FWS employees from all the regions, as far as Alaska and California, enriched my experience greatly as I got to learn their stories and how they got to where they were now.
And above all, to hug a pelican close to my body and so close to my heart, I have never felt so intimately connected to wildlife in such a capacity. It really solidified my lifelong commitment to wildlife conservation. Overall, these emotions, my experiences, the people who have touched my life, and the wildlife who have touched my life, will stay with me forever.
From July 18th to August 3rd, I was deployed to Grand Isle, Louisiana, to assist in the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response efforts. I was hired as a Technical Specialist by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to assist in the reconnaissance and recovery of oiled and injured wildlife. It was absolutely incredible to see and be an active part of such a large operation! I really felt like I personally contributed something towards the long recovery of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo Credit: Jared Galloway/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
The brown pelican is the state bird of Louisiana and was just recently removed from the endangered species list. It's not known what impact the oil spill is having on their numbers and health. We don't know yet how many adult and juvenile pelicans have been affected as we're still recovering birds. It is possible that they will be re-listed as endangered.
Everyday, we scanned islands in Barataria Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico, to spot any birds that were oiled or just not acting normal. After you've been around them for a short time, you can tell if their behavior is not typical. Maybe they are more sluggish or they're freaking out. We would pick up on any signs and try to rescue that bird.
They are normally docile and have gotten accustomed to having people looking at them but, still, recovering oiled or sick birds requires skill, especially with the juveniles who are more skittish. As I learned good handling techniques it got easier and some didn't resist being contained. Others were more rowdy and I just tried to hold them close to my body so they wouldn't flop around. Some of the juveniles were really strong. Of course, they don't enjoy being put in a cage and being confined.
Photo of Christine taken July 27th, recovering a dead juvenile brown pelican with no visible oil.
That was the first pelican that I recovered, and I felt sad seeing that it was dead. I did not know why it died as there were no visible signs of oil. Once I processed the pelican, I did not know what happened to it. That was one aspect that was especially hard about my position. Whenever I rescued or recovered a pelican, I usually never found out what had really caused the pelican's death or found out if the pelican would survive rehabilitation or be ultimately released back into the wild. I simply had to do my best and wish for the best.
We had our biggest success the day of this photo. We got 4 vessels together to collaborate on reconnaissance around Bird Island II, and there was a fifth vessel to oversee the operation. The idea was to funnel the birds, corral them, on the water. We knew that if a single vessel came up to them on the coastline, they would just retreat onto the island. Together we rescued 8 birds, put them in the blue cages, took them to the stabilization center for initial assessment and from there they went to the rehabilitation center. Later that day, we went back out and rescued 3 more birds. We did 11 that day!
Please read my extended captions for each photo. You will need to click on "show info" in the slideshow, upper right. Click on the icon in the lower right of the slideshow to see full screen.