On the Front Lines of the BP Oil Spill

The National Wildlife Federation has been on the front lines of the Gulf Oil Disaster since shortly after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Throughout the crisis, our actions, on-the-ground presence and focused response made us a leader and trusted voice for wildlife.

The following is a look back at what our staff, partners, affiliates and volunteers have done--and are still doing--to help the wildlife and communities of the Gulf.

  • National Wildlife Federation Gulf Oil Disaster Response
    Download a pdf  of the National Wildlife Federation's actions and accomplishments in the eight months after the Gulf Oil Disaster.


While much has been accomplished, the damage and recovery needs of the Gulf will likely go on for decades. We are committed to staying as long as it takes, pushing as hard as we can, and working to make sure the right solutions are implemented.

Our work is not done! To the individuals and businesses who donated their time, money and support during the crisis, National Wildlife Federation thanks you. You helped us take a leadership role in the Gulf restoration effort.

 Technician Collecting Oil Sample

Assessing the Damage

For more than 180 days, National Wildlife Federation served as a "witness for wildlife." Staff staged more than 60 boat tours of the Gulf impact zone from our Venice, LA, base, bringing waves of scientists, news reporters, wildlife professionals, community and conservation leaders, and national, state and local elected officials to the impact zone to experience the nature of the disaster, the effectiveness of the spill response, and the environmental and public health issues in play.

Key Result: Many scientific professionals, decision makers and journalists gained first hand critical understanding of the Gulf disaster, what it meant, where it was happening, how it evolved, how it was affecting wildlife, food chains and natural systems, and how effective various response activities were.

National Wildlife Federation provided independent assessment of the nature of the Gulf disaster and clean-up response in more than 7,000 documented news stories.

Key Result: Tens of millions of individual readers, viewers and listeners obtained objective information about the disaster's impact on wildlife and nature, and on the adequacy or inadequacy of both BP's and the government's response activities.

NWF succeeded in forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin releasing to the public detailed information on the number and species of birds impacted by the spill. NWF pressed USFWS for this information by filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

Key Result: Important information about the spill's impacts on migratory bird species was finally provided to the public. This data continues to inform public assessment of the adequacy and scope of government wildlife response plans, and are critical to accurately conducting the upcoming official natural resource damage assessment.

NWF was the first to publicly label the Gulf oil disaster as "a crime scene," debunking the BP corporate spin that it was an "accident".

Key Result: Soon after, U.S. Attorney General Holder announced there would be a criminal investigation of BP and corporate partners on possible law-breaking.

NWF was among the first to publicly challenge the extent to which certain toxic dispersants were being used by BP to control the oil slicks.

Key Result: EPA initiated extensive testing and monitoring and ordered BP to use less toxic dispersants.


Gulf Volunteer

Engaging People to Help

During the first phase of the uncapped spill, National Wildlife Federation trained more than 300 volunteers in 25 teams to help with wildlife distress surveillance throughout the Gulf region. Volunteers filed more than 5,000 reports with NWF on wildlife sightings, oil slick impacts and problems the public encountered with BP's distressed wildlife help line.

Key Result: Volunteers expanded the government's wildlife surveillance capabilities during the early phase of the spill, and identified early breakdowns in the BP Wildlife Rescue Hotline that were eventually corrected.

More than 53,000 citizens and 21 companies donated funds to National Wildlife Federation Gulf Disaster response efforts. Additionally, more than 200 individual, personal fundraising events for NWF were staged (auctions, lemonade stands, etc).

Key Result: The public reaction to the Gulf disaster was deep and wide. People wanted to help in whatever way they could. These donations helped National Wildlife Federation accomplish many of the actions outlined here, and gave us the capacity to continue working on the long-term problems that will last many years to come.


 Sea Turtle being cleaned

Improving and Expanding Wildlife Rescue and Protection

National Wildlife Federation pushed the U.S. Department of the Interior to press BP to correct chronic problems and breakdowns with the BP Wildlife Rescue Hotline that hindered rapid response.

Key Result: The government prevailed upon BP to expand its wildlife hotline capabilities and correct the failures.

National Wildlife Federation helped bring public attention to sea turtle deaths caused by BP's methods of burning oil slicks without first surveying the ringed areas for wildlife. We generated 8,500 public signatures on a petition calling for BP to employ safer oil slick burns to protect marine life.

Key Result: Soon after our petition, the government directed BP to begin ensuring that trained wildlife professionals were on board their boats to conduct wildlife surveillance prior to oil slick burns, thus preventing needless other marine wildlife deaths.

NWF generated 21,000 public comments calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the loggerhead sea turtle from "threatened" to "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act.

Key Result: While loggerhead sea turtles were already being considered for reclassification, in light of the spill, NWF-generated comments provided a powerful voice for taking action to increase protection for the species.

National Wildlife Federation provided critical funding to the Sea Turtle Conservancy  in Florida to enhance its capabilities to relocate sea turtle eggs away from the impact zone.

Key Result: Sea turtle hatchlings, at risk of death from entering the oiled waters of the Gulf, were saved by this multi-institutional effort to relocate eggs to the east coast of Florida. Since July 10th, more than 13,000 hatchlings – from nests collected from Northwest Florida and Alabama beaches – have been released into the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the nests are from loggerhead sea turtles, which is a threatened species. A few endangered Kemp's ridley turtle and green sea turtle nests also have been translocated.


 J Pott

Advancing the Restoration of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem

National Wildlife Federation sent to President Obama a letter cosigned by the National Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund urging him to include coastal restoration among the immediate recovery needs to be covered by a proposed BP escrow fund designed to mitigate damages in the short term.

Key Result: In his June 15th address to the nation on the oil spill, the President made prominent mention of the need to address not only the immediate visible impacts of the oil spill, but also the long term restoration needs of the Gulf Coast, which had been neglected for many years prior to the spill. He used this opportunity to appoint the Mabus Commission to develop a long term recovery plan for the Gulf Coast in the wake of the oil spill.

On July 28th National Wildlife Federation released (in partnership with National Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund) the report Common Ground: A Shared Vision for Restoring the Mississippi River Delta. NWF hosted a congressional staff briefing on the report and engaged members of Congress to address Gulf Coast restoration and funding in oil spill reform legislation.

Key Result: The paper and the briefing were instrumental in the House of Representatives approving a provision in HR 3534 that dedicates $1.2 billion in BP Clean Water Act penalties to Gulf Coast restoration.

NWF invested in a Mobile Bay restoration project that will provide critical un-oiled nursery habitat for numerous finfish and shellfish stocks, while more affected areas are being cleaned.

Key Result: This project will not only help in the recovery of populations impacted by the oil spill, but it will also serve as an investment in the establishment of long-term habitat needs, providing areas for resting, forage and shelter into the future (0.2 miles of vertical oyster reef, 2.0 acres of sea grass/marsh). Learn more about the "100-1000: Restore Alabama's Coast" project >>

NWF generated 85,000 public comments calling on Congress to fund Gulf Coast restoration.

Key Result: Provided strong public support that aided the House of Representatives to include a provision in HR 3534 that dedicates $1.2 billion in BP Clean Water Act penalties to be spent on Gulf Coast restoration. It is hoped that the Senate will pass its version of a comprehensive oil spill reform legislation next year.


Bay Jimmy Oiled Grass 

Advocating Policy Reforms

National Wildlife Federation President and CEO, Larry Schweiger, testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 19th at one of the first congressional hearings on the Gulf disaster, where he called for government commitment to Gulf restoration, expanded wildlife protection efforts and a national transition to clean energy.

Key Result: National Wildlife Federation provided members of Congress with first-hand objective information about the scope of damages from the spill and highlighted key inadequacies in BP's disaster response during the early phase of the disaster. We also offered a meaningful analysis of the spill's ramifications on the nation's approach to energy exploration in general.

National Wildlife Federation generated 170,000 public comments calling on Congress to remove the current oil company spill financial liability limits so that oil companies, not the public, are financially responsibility in total for accidents and misdeeds.

Key Result: As a result of strong public support, the House of Representatives included a provision in HR 3534 to remove the oil industry liability cap on oil companies. It is hoped that the Senate will pass its version of comprehensive oil spill reform legislation next year.

NWF joined a coalition of conservation organizations to urge the administration to suspend leasing summer exploratory drilling activities in the Arctic Ocean until more was learned about what went wrong with the Gulf drilling operations.

Key Result: Secretary Salazar put the brakes on pending permit application by Shell Oil, requiring further scientific studies and assessments, including analysis of potential spill response plans.

NWF launched an aggressive campaign for reform of oil and gas leasing practices in the wake of the spill. We held Capitol Hill briefings featuring prominent scientists, generated thousands of calls and e-mails, and garnered editorial support in favor of comprehensive oil spill legislation. NWF also partnered with leaders in the Gulf Coast commercial and recreational fishing communities to ensure their voices were heard on Capitol Hill.

Key Result: The House passed the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act July 30, by a vote of 216-195. The bill has a number of important provisions that will prevent future offshore spills by increasing oil company accountability, liability and penalties for spills; improving safety standards and regulatory activities; and removing certain exemptions the oil and gas industry enjoys from key environmental laws.

These examples of our work over the first eight months of the Gulf oil spill disaster are only the beginning.

National Wildlife Federation is committed to its long term goals of ensuring that the oil spill is cleaned up, wildlife populations are on a pathway to recovery and that the environmental health and integrity of the Gulf ecosystem are fully restored, beyond just the oil pollution damage. Moving forward, our oil spill response effort is focused on four key areas:

  • Helping Wildlife Recover
  • Restoring Gulf Ecosystems
  • Holding BP Accountable
  • Reforming Offshore Drilling Policy

With the right steps, National Wildlife Federation believes we can restore this rich natural resource back to full health.

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Five Years and Counting, a report by the National Wildlife Federation