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FWC employees perform above and beyond to respond to oil spill disaster

As I See It

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I think we should take a moment here to recognize the exemplary performance of all of the employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) who have been responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At the height of the oil spill, FWC employees tirelessly carried out responsibilities to protect our precious natural resources and preserve the scenic beauty of our great state.

FWC staff prepares for critical incidents, including oil spills, that may affect wildlife. Even before the spill, the FWC was involved in developing area contingency plans and training with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Bureau of Emergency Response on oil spill cleanup and damage assessment.

Immediately after the rig exploded, the FWC quickly began coordinating with DEP, the lead state agency charged with responding to the oil spill, as well as with other federal, state and local agencies responding to the disaster. FWC staff updated area contingency plans to help guide placement of booms and protect environmentally sensitive areas. These plans are critical to help prevent further damage to our fish and wildlife.

The FWC also provided GIS mapping assistance to decision-makers developing response and cleanup strategies. The information provided helps with prioritizing response efforts and assessing damage after a spill.

FWC scientists also began pre-impact assessments of our natural resources. Sampling included testing of sediment, fish and shellfish along the coastline and in the Gulf.

FWC staff surveyed critical habitat of sea turtles and shorebirds, so we could provide the best information to decision-makers. Staff developed wildlife response plans to help guide those officials through this unprecedented event. The information provided by FWC biologists helped guide decisions on booming, shoreline protection, cleanup and response.

Also, FWC biologists led development of rescue and relocation plans for Gulf wildlife. FWC provided guidance to our partners who rescued hundreds of visibly oiled birds. Unfortunately, many of those birds died in rehabilitation facilities or were already dead upon collection. However, some have been returned to the wild.

FWC biologists assisted our partners in recovering approximately 130 visibly oiled sea turtles. Fortunately, many of those turtles responded well to rehabilitation, and many have been successfully released.

Oil threatened sea turtle nests on Northwest Florida beaches. As a result, staff and our partners made the unprecedented move to get those nests out of harm's way. The FWC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and volunteers relocated approximately 250 sea turtle nests and released more than 13,000 hatchings.

FWC law enforcement also responded in an exemplary manner. On the water, in the air and on the ground, our officers performed daily reconnaissance missions, looking for oil and communicating their findings to those coordinating the cleanup.

As for our saltwater fish populations, we'll have to continue to monitor the effects, but they appear to be much less severe than anticipated. State waters are open to fishing and shrimp harvest. Most federal waters off the Florida coast are open again too.

The FWC and our partners will continue working to document the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The response will continue until threats to Florida's natural resources are no longer present. Staff stands ready if re-oiling occurs. Monitoring and research on subsurface oil continues. We are just at the beginning of determining the extent of damage to wildlife and habitat.

It bears repeating that FWC staff shines brightest during challenging times. It is an honor to serve as FWC chairman in the company of these talented and dedicated people.

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