Christine Chung has just completed an assignment on a Vessel of Opportunity out of Grand Isle, a barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, rescuing birds and providing data to the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service on the state of the shore vegetation and oil booms protecting them. She'll be sharing her stories and photos of that work on Follow Me, while she finishes up as an Interpretation Intern at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine. She is pulling her photos together now, and we expect to feature her in late August/early September. In the meantime, you can follow other SCA interns and crew members in the field this summer.
After creating a map of the oil-ravaged Gulf for Vice President Joe Biden last month, SCA cartographic intern Peter White resumed his interim duties creating daily status maps for the various government agencies tasked with responding to the spill.
Peter, who earlier this summer transferred from his SCA position at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia to the Feds' Incident Command Center in New Orleans, reports "it's amazing to be inside such a massive operation and see what really goes into such an undertaking."
Like other SCA members in the region, Peter sees the agencies doing everything possible to mitigate the unprecedented flow of oil into the Gulf. "We all work hard, with long hours - 05:00 to18:00 today - and lots to do." And while BP is the target of frequent criticism, Peter notes their people at the ICC "are working longer hours than me!"
The working conditions are as tight as they are long. Peter works along side other cartographers on one side of a table, opposite a bank of Coast Guard public information officers. He says they've developed a good chemistry even amid the tense circumstances. "We try to keep things lighthearted with lots of good-natured ribbing," he says. "We do 50 push-ups on the hour and 50 sit-ups on the half-hour just to keep the blood flowing."
Peter is the blonde guy seated to the right of the Veep.
Like everyone else in the Gulf region, SCA interns are seeing things go from bad to worse. At Gulf Islands National Seashore, where Jennifer Raabe first saw tar balls weeks ago, there is now a heavy presence of oil.
"Things have become progressively worse, which we knew was inevitable," she says. "Every MS barrier island I've been to lately has seen a large amount of oil on it's shores: Petit Bois, Horn, East Ship, and West Ship."
Jennifer is a Mississippi resident, so for her the spill and all it's damage hits home and especially hard. Like other interns in the region, she credits her agency sponsors, in this case the National Park Service, with doing everything possible to respond to the spill and protecting affected wildlife. She is conducting seabird surveys at Gulf Islands, and will surely see the oil's impact as she serves thru August.
Later this week: more from intern Peter White at the federal Incident Command Center in New Orleans.
Peter is a cartographer, helping NOAA track the disastrous Gulf oil spill out of the Unified Area Command office in New Orleans. He created the giant map that served as a backdrop for Vice President Joe Biden’s visit today.
Peter recently transferred from the National Conservation Traiing Center in West Virginia. “I make daily status maps for the Coast Guard, Navy, and National Security among other agencies,” Peter notes. “We scramble to keep the maps as up-to-date as possible to ensure that resources are properly allocated and because the data are so dynamic.”
Peter works from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. as part of a large work group that uploads data to ERMA – Environmental Response Management Application. Opposite his work station are Coast Guard reserves who manage inquiries from a variety of sources. “We try to keep it lighthearted with lots of good-natured ribbing,” he says, “and we try to do 50 pushups on the hour and 50 situps on the half-hour to keep the blood flowing.”
Peter contends the news coverage that emphasizes oil covered beaches and wildlife is only telling part of the story. “I believe in conservation,” he says, while noting his biggest priority is “getting people back to work and helping them rebuild their lives.”
“The Gulf Coast community is a strong community and as bad as spill is, I’m confident we can and will pull through it, just as we did after Katrina.” Those are the words of SCA’s Jennifer Raabe, an intern at Gulf Islands National Seashore and native of Mississippi. She’s concerned about her home region, the islands and wetlands, and the fishing industry that supports so many in the region. Still, she’s grateful for the opportunity to respond and help the park and her neighbors in this time of need. Read more in the latest issue of Hands On.
Other interns in the region are also focused on silver linings. One notes “we’ve really been split as a society for years. But you can’t have sides when it comes to survival. The oil spill can serve as a rallying point. Groups that ordinarily wouldn't work together now will have to. And it’s a great opportunity for people who don’t understand their connection to nature to see how we’re all interrelated.” Intern Christopher Reddin adds “it’s a complete fluke that I was serving here in the Gulf when the spill hit, but I consider myself lucky” to be among the first responders.
There hasn’t been a lot of good news regarding the spill over the past two months, but these interns and their outlooks are a true source of inspiration.
Help us put more young responders on the ground. Donate to SCA’s Gulf Response Fund.
SCA interns throughout the Gulf region are scrambling to conduct wildlife mortality surveys and establish baseline data before the oil takes a larger toll on area wetlands and beaches, including at Pelican Islands National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern coast of Florida.
Interns Christopher Reddin and Nicole Wutzke-Moore have received intensive bird inventory training and are now spending long days in the field training U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees.
Refuge Ranger Joanna Webb says they are doing “a fantastic job.”
“This is the Number One priority for the Service right now. We’ve put all other work aside,” Joanna states. “Chris and Nicole have really been instrumental in these bird surveys. Without them, I honestly don’t know how we could have made this transition.”
“We don’t know what’s coming. If and when the oil hits the Gulf Stream, something will happen but we don’t know if, come July, we’ll be doing turtle walks for visitors or seeing dead turtles on beach.”
“This time of year, approximately half of the sea turtles in the Caribbean return to the beaches here to rejuvenate their population. If the oil strikes, the implications for the global sea turtle population could be tragic to the survival of the species.”
Other SCA interns serving in the region are slated to check in. More soon…
from Dale Penny, SCA President
John Muir once said "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
As the Gulf oil disaster grows, I am reminded of Muir's wisdom. Never has the interconnection among corporate actions, governmental policy, our global ecosystem and the livelihood of so many citizens been so clear.
It was good to hear President Obama last night; yet, even with everyone's best and renewed efforts, the fact is that this terrible oil spill will not be stopped any time soon and we will all suffer its impact for years - if not decades - to come.
I want to tell you where SCA stands on a Gulf response plan and reply to the many inquiries we've received from those eager to join a volunteer-driven recovery effort.
From the day oil started pouring into the Gulf, SCA has been consulting with our federal land management partners at the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies within the Department of the Interior. As clean-up operations began, it became clear that regional governors wanted to prioritize the recruiting, training and hiring of local residents who have been financially affected by the spill. SCA fully understands and supports this position.
Therefore, we are maintaining communications with our federal contacts while also reaching out to the states to offer aid when the time comes to engage coordinators, interns and volunteers in long-term remediation and restoration efforts.
I have no doubt that SCA members will play an important role in the Gulf coast recovery effort. For the moment, we stand ready and prepared to act at the appropriate time...even as images of oil-soaked fowl and shorelines break our hearts on a daily basis.
All of us at SCA are grateful to those who have contacted us offering assistance. We will continue to update you as the situation evolves. In the short term, however, we are directing interest from prospective volunteers to the Gulf-based organizations listed below.
In addition to the words of John Muir, this tragic oil spill reminds me that SCA's mission - preparing conservation leaders to live an ethic of stewardship and protect our planet - has never been so relevant. Just as our founder, Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam, was inspired to create SCA in response to an emergency in our national parks, this Gulf crisis has galvanized hundreds of thousands to seek a way - any way - to help.
That is why, even amid the devastation, I remain hopeful for the future. As my thoughts are with our friends in the Gulf, my thanks belong to you.