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Treating The Gulf Wildlife--Good Idea Or Prolonging The Agony?

JEFF CORWIN: Chris, the most important thing everyone really needs to know is that the Gulf of Mexico is one of our planet`s most biologically pro
JEFF CORWIN: Chris, the most important thing everyone really needs to know is that the Gulf of Mexico is one of our planet`s most biologically productive places. We have many species of sharks that survive here. Every bluefin tuna-- from Nova Scotia to the Gulf Coast, every Western Atlantic bluefin tuna breeds within miles of this spill. The brown pelican of Louisiana, this was a species that became extinct in 1963. Amazingly, it was recovered. Now all these animals are endangered, are in jeopardy because of the spill. The truth is, though, when these animals are rescued in time, like the pelicans and the turtles, and when they receive proper medical attention, they can survive. So, every effort is needed.

it might not be the case that the wildlife can survive:

Silvia Gaus, a biologist at Germany's Wattenmeer National Park, says the oil-covered birds in the Gulf of Mexico should be killed, not cleaned.

It can take up to four people and 300 gallons of water, plus a lot of Dawn dish soap and dedicated volunteers to rehabilitate and release one bird. After the Exxon Valdez spill, it cost nearly $32,000 per bird to send them home. And, according to Gaus, all that effort still leads to a near certain and painful death for the animals.

When oiled wildlife is rescued, it's the proverbial race against time. Some of the animals will have already ingested too much oil, and no amount of Pepto Bismol (force-fed to oil-covered animals to protect their stomachs) can save them. For others, the stress of the cleanup operation will prove fatal. If they make it through the rehabilitation, many of them will die within a few days of being released into the wild, often from kidney and liver damage. The trauma of oil exposure may also alter their behavior and reproduction, which will impact their chances of survival. According to Gaus, studies show that the middle-term survival rate of oiled birds is less than one percent.

So, why bother?

Why bother? Well, because otherwise the devastation is too horrible to consider. We've all seen the videos of birds struggling in the oil, but that ignores the rich diversity of life that makes the wetlands of the Gulf Coast their home.

I think we need to start wrapping our collective heads around the notion--however hyperbolic as it sounds now--that this disaster will have a devastating impact on a global scale for generations and that we may never recover from it. Certainly, it may be responsible for the extinction of several species.

At the very least, this should end any further discussion of deep water drilling. We simply cannot afford the costs of another disaster of this scale.

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