June 5, 2010

The brown pelican has become the "poster bird" of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster in the Gulf.  29 oil-covered pelicans were airlifted from Queen Bess Island to a bird rehabilitation center in Fort Jackson on Thursday. This rookery was designed as a protected home where pelicans could live and breed, but it’s now surrounded by oil-soaked booms.

The tragedy is that the brown pelican, once so common on the Louisiana coastline that they are on the Louisiana State flag, has been threatened once before. In fact, the long-billed birds nearly became extinct in the 1960s due to widespread use of pesticides like DDT. The ingestion of these pesticides caused the shells of pelican eggs to become paper thin, so brittle that the eggs cracked when the adult pelican sat on them. Fortunately, the use of these pesticides was banned nationwide in 1972, and a successful program to save the brown pelican from extinction was launched. The pelicans were reintroduced in three locations, including Queen Bess Island, off the Louisiana coast, and were living proof that a species brought to the edge of extinction could come back and thrive. Now their very survival is threatened once again.

 For readers who live in Louisiana and want to get involved in helping to save the wetlands and the wildlife, a good source to contact is the Barataria Terrebonne National Estatuary Program (BTNEP).  They are front line defenders of Louisiana’s precious wetlands from the potential impacts of the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are looking for volunteers.

 Photo Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images


Posted by: Liz Nealon

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