A new national Volunteer Response Center is gearing up to channel the energies of a growing force of volunteers seeking to help birds, wildlife and habitat to weather the assault of the Gulf oil spill.
The National Audubon Society will use the facility in Moss Point, Mississippi along with organizers deployed to affected areas in four states to contact, coordinate and mobilize more than 13,000 volunteers who signed up with Audubon in the first weeks of the disaster. That number is expected to grow.
"The volunteer response to this growing disaster has been amazing," said Sean Saville, National Field Director for the National Audubon Society. "People just want to do something to help, and with the additional coordinating capacity at our new Volunteer Response Center we can engage volunteers in a positive and timely way and also help set realistic expectations about what volunteer opportunities are available. Volunteers with the right skills and a positive attitude can make a world of difference by being available when and where they're needed."
Early in the crisis Audubon teams responded to urgent requests from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Louisiana, recruiting and scheduling scores of volunteers to work dockside shifts to assist federal and state wildlife agencies in their recovery and transport of oiled and injured birds. Though initial needs were lower than expected, the vital staffing goes on. Across the Gulf Coast, volunteers screened for special skills are helping to identify and mark fragile coastal areas to protect habitats and nesting areas from damage as clean-up operations become necessary.
"Things have been pretty hectic since my arrival, but the National Audubon Society has really stepped up to coordinate volunteers for different areas of the State," said Beth Pattinson, an employee of the US Fish & Wildlife-Alaska working out of the Houma, Louisiana Unified Command Center as the Volunteer Coordinator for this area of the spill.
"All I have to do is make a request of the folks I work with at Audubon for a location where hands, hearts and skills are needed and Audubon fills that request. Each day, I get to talk to the volunteers as they check in for their area and it makes my day. What a wonderful group of committed, concerned and good-hearted people."
Audubon says most people simply want to help. Though it will take a while to reach out to all registered volunteers by phone, those who are called are reassured upon learning that that there will be future opportunities to help, including participation in long-term restoration efforts.
Anticipated volunteer activities include:
• Volunteer Response Center Staff — scheduling volunteers, identifying and coordinating engagement with new projects, logistical support, arranging training, office management, etc.
• Coastal Bird Survey — collecting data and photos on bird resources and impacts across the coast according to specific scientific protocols.
• Wildlife Transport Facilitator —assisting USFWS and Tri-State Bird Rescue with volunteers scheduled in round-the-clock shifts in key locations for injured/oiled wildlife recovery and transport operations throughout the coastal region.
• Bird Capture and Rescue Materials — volunteers are needed to make nets, cages and other materials to assist trained professionals in oiled bird rescue efforts.
• Citizen Science Monitoring — submitting electronic information on birds sightings at Important Bird Areas, refuges or sanctuaries to assess population impacts, numbers of target species or species of concern
• Bird Hotline Operators –- providing on-site bird expertise for our Volunteer Response Center as well as possibly in field offices of BP, Tri-State Bird Rescue and others involved in response efforts to address issues related to bird sightings, handling, species identification, etc.
A fixture in the Gulf for decades, Audubon is well known to community leaders, resource management agencies and conservation-minded residents. Its priority efforts to arresting the erosion of coastal land and restore the health marshes are vital to maintaining storm protection, protecting birds and wildlife, and ensuring the prosperity of coastal communities. From wildlife monitoring to restoration projects and dealing with invasive plants, volunteers will play important roles in the restoring the long-term health of the region.
"Audubon has been working for the health of Gulf for years. We can help volunteers to make a difference now, when it's needed most, and together we can help the region grow even stronger long after the headlines fade," said Dr. Mark LaSalle, Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point.
"The renewed attention about the state of our natural resources will do much to help engage volunteers in meaningful efforts to document their status through Citizen Science programs like the newly launched Audubon Coastal Bird Survey, and then to help restore habitats long impacted by over development."
Audubon's Volunteer Response Center is located at: 6016 Highway 63 in Moss Point. Interested volunteers may register online at www.audubon.org and will be contacted shortly as opportunities arise.
The Response Center facility and operations are made possible in part by a donation from Chevron, a long-time supporter of Audubon conservation education efforts in the region.