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FWC, along with all the rest of Florida, stands prepared

As I See It

Monday, May 17, 2010

Media contact: Rodney Barreto

We often take for granted all the things that make our life easy until something happens to make us sit up and take notice. This happened in late April, when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico brought us all to attention.

So far, Florida's fish and wildlife remain safe from the impact of oil coming ashore, and we hope for the best. The longer that oil stays out at sea, the better it is for our estuaries and marshes where the fish and wildlife spawn and nest. We are still the Fishing Capital of the World.

It took thousands of years for folks to realize the thick, tar-like substance bubbling up out of the earth might have some use in our lives. That discovery fueled centuries of new inventions and technology to enable people to live longer and in comfort. Part of the price was a contaminated environment.

We are now a society dependent upon that petroleum, but with that dependence comes the certainty that we must take responsibility for any consequences. It is true that BP leads the effort to contain and clean up the spill from its wellhead, but others have stepped forth to assist as well.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working closely with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the lead agency in the state for responding to the oil spill. Both the FWC and DEP are involved in gathering pre-assessment data, along with many other agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At the FWC, we stand ready to minimize harm to wildlife affected by the oil spill, if oil should come ashore. The FWC is involved in the strategic planning that will attempt to secure the spill to prevent damage to Florida and its outstanding resources. Our scientists are mapping high-priority fish and wildlife habitats to help focus protective measures, and they are conducting biological assessments to establish a baseline for measuring the severity of potential harm to fish and wildlife.

Volunteers immediately began calling the FWC and other agencies to find out how they could help when news broke that the oil could reach Florida. I am encouraged by this outpouring of support, and the FWC thanks all those who make wildlife a priority.

However, this crisis situation differs from other disasters we've faced in Florida, from hurricanes and flooding to droughts and fires. If an oiled fish washes ashore or wildlife covered in oil appears distressed, some of us will be tempted to rush out and rescue the animal. However, that will not be the best course of action for either the wildlife or the Good Samaritan.

This crisis involves hazardous materials that need to be handled by properly trained personnel for the safety of you and for the survival of the wildlife you think you might be saving.

Attempting to rescue wildlife distressed by the oil could further distress the animal. Your presence could have the opposite of the intended effect. Distressed wildlife can be dangerous as they fight to survive. You also are putting yourself at risk by touching the oil. Nobody wins in this situation, and while our well-intentioned actions may seem helpful, they are not.

It is best to let the trained professionals take over, and there are plenty of them and even more coming on board to receive the necessary training to assist. All oil-contaminated wildlife will be handled by trained workers.

As we go through the long process of preparing, protecting and then cleaning up any potential oil residue that reaches our shores, there will be plenty of opportunities to assist.

Volunteer Florida is an active participant in the oil spill response and encourages those who want to assist to get involved locally through affiliated pre-landfall beach cleanups, fundraising and assisting with the needs of all the organizations involved in the response. Remember all beach cleanups should come through organized efforts. For more information on how to help, visit www.volunteerfloridadisaster.org.

We're all in this together.

The FWC will do everything possible to protect Florida's fish and wildlife, and that's why I've called for an emergency meeting with our agency's staff. This meeting is unprecedented, but so is the oil spill that could possibly affect our natural resources.

The meeting will be May 19 at 10 a.m. at TradeWinds Island Grand in St. Pete Beach. Visit MyFWC.com/Commission for more information.

Florida's fish and wildlife have the very best resources working for their protection and survival.



FWC Facts:
Gar and bowfin, or mudfish, have specially adapted swim bladders that allow them to gulp air at the surface when oxygen levels are low.

Learn More at AskFWC