Wildlife Rescuers in Gulf Overwhelmed–By Volunteers, Not Patients

San Francisco Oil Spill - Partially Oiled Gull

Oiled gull in CA in 2007 by Ingrid Taylar. Not many oiled birds seen yet in the gulf.

So far only a single bird, a Northern Gannett, has shown up oiled from the massive Deepwater Horizon spill. Wildlife rescuers and nonetheless overwhelmed–by all the untrained human volunteers.

As the potential for the spill gets bigger, the big wildlife groups are contemplating holding training classes to equip the would-be volunteers, says Kai Williams, executive director of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

Right now several groups are taking in information from potential volunteers.  The National Wildlife Federation is directing people to sign up with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

 “If you have the ability to restain an animal, that’s going to be huge, just the basic ability to hold an animal,” says Williams. “They’re getting a lot of untrained people, not wildlife rehabilitators, people who have never picked up a bird.”

What makes planning the response so hard is no one knows how big this still-developing catastrophe is going to be or when and where a rush of injured animals will show up. Some contemplate that the Gulf Stream could wrap it around Florida. Some worry the spill could end up bigger than Valdez. Williams notes that fewer birds live in Valdez, but there are also turtles and marine mammals to worry about.

The northern gannet is being bathed, fed electrolytes and pepto bismal, but rough weather this weekend prevented picking up more patients. A caretaker

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See Turtles Connects Resume-Building Volunteers, Fishermen and Researchers

Baby Leatherback Turtle,Courtesy of Jennie – My Travels.

Whether you’re an aspiring biologist searching for hands-on experience or just a traveler who wants to watch a few turtles on vacation, See Turtles has an expedition for you, says Brad Nahill, marketing director and co-founder. While the See Turtle website showcases mainly the latter, a kind of turtle tourism lite for those with less time than money, the conservation group is branching out. They now connect longer term volunteers who have more time than money.

This is exactly what people are looking for in the age of the Great Recession, animal tourism and voluntourism. Recent college grads, facing 15% unemployment, are willing to take unpaid gigs in a related field. Since posting an application for volunteer opportunities in April, they’ve gotten 500 queries. Wealthier Gen Y grads latching onto the British concept of the Gap Year may be willing to pay thousands of dollars for a resume-boosting international experience. But Nahill hopes to offer the opportunity for a more reasonable fees that go directly to the community, along the lines of $20/day.

“Pretty much anyone can go down and measure a turtle and grab eggs,” says Nahill. “It’s not like darting a tiger…it’s safe.” And he should–that’s how he started out in turtle conservation after college. In many ways sea turtles–which are all either endangered or threatened–are the ideal eco-tourism target. Even the non-skilled can help–whether that’s doing research, patrolling beaches or just showing up on tours. Just the tourists

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