MOBILE, Ala.–(ENEWSPF)–July 30, 2010. The Department of the Interior’s National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have jointly created a Sensitive Lands branch staffed by biologists and other environmental experts to ensure efforts to clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill do not harm the fragile coastal ecosystems of National Park Service lands along the Gulf of Mexico.
“We formed the branch in May to ensure that our efforts to protect fragile areas do not accidentally have the opposite effect and harm them,” said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of the Interior for fish and wildlife and parks, who oversees the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. “These experts accompany cleanup crews and identify delicate dune vegetation and sea turtle, bird and beach mouse nesting sites. They provide expert advice on how to effect the cleanup without inadvertent collateral damage to the ecosystems or wildlife.”
The experts, known as Resource Advisors (READs), are natural resource professionals employed by the department’s land management agencies. Most of the cleanup efforts on National Park lands have been with small teams of eight to 10 people with shovels, rakes and bags, accompanied and guided by READs. The workers remove tarballs and stained sand from the beach and place the refuse in bags, which are then picked up by small utility terrain vehicles and removed. To ensure minimum impact, both vehicular and foot traffic stay within clearly marked lanes of travel that are just wide enough for two small vehicles to pass in opposite directions.
The READs oversight look for new, more efficient ways to clean up oil. Earlier this month beach cleaning machines were tested on the shores of Gulf Islands National Seashore. The machines are towed behind tractors and are designed to scrape the top 2-3 inches of sand from the beach, sift out debris and tar and return clean sand back onto the beach.
The machines are used at night while the temperature is below 80 degrees, so the tar is less likely to gum up the sieves. Red filters are placed over work lights and headlamps to reduce the hazard to nesting turtles that could become disoriented under bright lights. Teams of READs walk alongside and in front of the machines to direct work around areas of ecological concern.
The experimental cleaning effort is ongoing. It is hoped it will prove to be as effective as large crews working manually, while needing less logistical support.
“The national parks and wildlife refuges are being treated like the seed pods for the future,” said J.D. Swed, Sensitive Lands branch chief of the Incident Command Post in Mobile, Ala. “If these areas can be cleaned up with their biology and ecology preserved, they can be catalysts to help speed the natural recovery of other coastal areas that have been impacted more deeply.”
For information about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response effort, visit: www.restorethegulf.gov.