As I passed by the Emeryville shoreline today, seeing small rafts of sea ducks floating in the San Francisco Bay and shorebirds foraging at the low tide line made me choke up with emotion.
After all, it was five years ago this month that I watched helplessly as globs of oil from the damaged MV Cosco Busan tanker washed ashore at the height of seabird migration, fouling the entire Emeryville-Berkeley waterfront and coating tens of thousands of wintering birds in a thick, brown goo. After flying thousands of miles from their summer homes in Canada and Alaska, they landed hungry and tired, only to meet their deaths by drowning in gummy, sticky bunker fuel.
I saw an oil-covered cormorant frantically trying to preen itself on a pier. At the tideline, I watched as many oiled mallards sat cold, wet and helpless. The surf scoters I adored, the beautiful black-and-white buffleheads, the delightful scaups and coots — few of these birds could escape the onslaught of the 53,000-gallon oil slick spreading relentlessly throughout the Bay and into the Pacific.
When I saw the natural places I loved being destroyed before my very eyes, along with the seabirds I learned to identify over years of observation, it made my blood boil. I remember calling everyone I could think of: the Coast Guard, the Berkeley harbormaster, my local representatives, all to find out what could be done to stop the tide of bunker fuel from surging onto shore.
It was through this horrifying and frustrating experience that I discovered International Bird Rescue (IBR). Almost immediately, the organization’s truck was on the scene, equipped with towels and carriers waiting to ferry affected birds to IBR’s San Francisco Bay Area rehabilitation center in nearby Fairfield. Volunteers brought much-needed supplies as the skilled staff scurried about the shoreline in white Hazmat suits using giant nets to capture the most seriously oiled birds.
What struck me then — and continues to inspire me now — is that International Bird Rescue is an expert in both rescuing and rehabilitating oiled birds. Once the birds were at the center, they were carefully assessed, rehydrated, fed and washed. IBR’s team meticulously monitored the recovering birds as they were later transferred into blue, cold-water pools along with their fellow patients. Hundreds of wonderful aquatic birds, from murres to scoters and grebes, were successfully treated and released.
I’m grateful everyday for the mere presence of International Bird Rescue. No matter where in the world oil spills or other environmental emergencies occur, from New Zealand to the Yellowstone River to the Gulf of Mexico, our expert team is experienced and well-equipped to save wildlife from any disaster. And here at home in California, we have a crack team ready to go that gives 5,000 birds a year their wings after injuries and other events incapacitate them.
How is this all possible? Because of our members and friends who support International Bird Rescue through thick and thin. Please help us continue this important work by supporting International Bird Rescue. www.birdrescue.org/donate
I want to thank you for helping make us the most skilled bird rescue and response team in the world.
For the love of birds,
Secretary, Board of Directors
International Bird Rescue
P.S. – If you feel as strongly as I do about these beautiful seabirds, please give as generously as you can this year. Increasingly, we are asked to take victims of all kinds of emergencies beyond oil spills — toxic algae bloom events, “mystery” oil seeps, and other aquatic mishaps that are, sadly, becoming more common each year. For this work, we rely solely on your help. So, for all of you who love the beauty and mystery of seabirds and shorebirds, we ask you to contribute. I thank you for your kind support.