Wildlife photographer joins NWF volunteer effort to monitor oil spill impacts

"To watch these birds struggle with their last breath being filled with oil has outraged me to no end"

06-11-2010 // Aislinn Maestas
Gulf Coast volunteer Darlene Eschete

To monitor the impact of the BP Oil Spill on wildlife and habitat, the National Wildlife Federation and our state affiliates in the Gulf are organizing and deploying teams of volunteers to observe the more than 10,000 miles of shoreline along the Gulf Coast.

Wildlife and nature photographer Darlene Eschete was one of the first volunteers to go out as part to our Gulf Coast Surveillance Teams. An avid birder with a special affinity for shorebirds – i.e. the ones affected most by the spill – Darlene has been moved to tears by what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

“You can only imagine how I feel about those birds drowning in this gooey crude oil,” said Darlene. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Watching and Waiting

During the oil spill disaster, Darlene has used her skills as a photographer to document impacts and chronicle events as they unfold.

On the two occasions President Obama came out to evaluate BP’s response to the spill, Darlene recalls watching as BP “workers” were shipped onto the beach just prior to Obama’s arrival, only to get bussed out after his departure.

“They never lifted a rake or shovel that I saw to clean that beach,” recalls Darlene. “They didn’t even have the equipment in their hands. They just stood around, grouped together, watching and talking to one another. It was so sad.” 

Eventually, Darlene's sadness grew into frustration and eventually anger: “To sit back and watch these birds struggle with their last breath being filled with oil has outraged me to no end. The images will forever be imprinted in my mind and my heart. Before all those horrible photos came out by the media, I knew these birds were suffering, but I couldn't get out there to help because security did not allow anyone on the water where the oil was. Many other bird lovers shared the outrage because NOTHING was being done to save the wildlife. Too many weeks passed by without any rescue efforts taking place. Not until those horrible photos were finally released by the media did we see action start to happen.”

As soon as the opportunity became available, Darlene signed up to volunteer.

Helping Out, One Bird at a Time 

Oiled white pelicans

On her most recent surveillance trip to Grand Isle, Darlene recorded seeing eight oiled brown pelicans, one oiled white pelican and four oiled laughing gulls. “There were pelicans roosting on a pylon” said Darlene. “I watched as they stretched their wings in a futile attempt to dry them. Sadly, they were covered in oil.”

Darlene has steadily "scouted" for oiled birds on land for about a month. At least twice a week, she makes a "loop" around Terrebonne Parish, which has five bayous with wildlife refuges and plenty of marshy areas and waterways where birds hang out. In addition, Darlene heads out to scout on Grand Isle, Elmer's Island and Fourchon once a week.

“You never know when a bird will be oiled on land or the beach areas that I can report and get help for.”

"Be an advocate for the Gulf Coast"

Before the oil spill, Darlene spent quite a bit of time birding and taking photos at Grand Isle, LA, especially during spring and fall migrations. A mere two days before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 people and setting off what is now the worst environmental disaster in America’s history, Darlene spent a day at the beach building sand castles with her grandson. Now, as tar balls wash up on Louisiana’s shores and oil tarnishes hundreds of miles of coastline, Darlene realizes it may be years before she and her grandson will be able to return to that beach and enjoy it as they did that sunny day in April.

When asked what message she would like to share with others who want to help, her response is simple: "Be an advocate for the Gulf Coast and express your opinion and voice to those that can make a difference. Get others to volunteer or get involved in some small way. All it takes is ONE VOICE to be heard. But, with many voices coming together, it becomes a rallying outcry. Then, hopefully, the attention and help the wildlife so desperately need will follow with action!"


Just as Darlene is making a difference with her volunteer efforts in Louisiana, you can make a difference by supporting National Wildlife Federation’s on-the-ground volunteer and restoration efforts. You can help wildlife threatened by the oil spill by donating online , making a leadership gift or donating by mobile phone .
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