Environmental Contaminants Program
U S Fish and Wildlife Service

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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response

NOTE: The Environmental Contaminants Program Deepwater Horizon Pages are no longer being maintained.

Deepwater Horizon

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), through the Department of the Interior is a Natural Resource Trustee under the National Contingency Plan for impacts to National Wildlife Refuge lands, migratory birds, Federally listed threatened and endangered species, and certain marine mammals, marine turtles, and interjursidictional fish.

In the DeepWater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, the FWS has taken a leadership role in evaluating the impact of DWH oil to migratory birds and refuge lands. We also are closely monitoring the spread of DWH oil and consulting with response agencies to minimize potential impacts to Federally-listed species and the habitats upon which they depend. We will quantify the magnitude and extent of any injury caused by DWH oil and associated response actions for all species and lands for which the FWS has Trustee responsibility. The FWS will collaborate with our co-trustees in seeking damages that will fully restore the injured resources to their prerelease conditions.

Below is a bulleted list of the numerous injury assessment activities the FWS has taken a lead in pursing with our Federal and State partners. These injury assessment studies do not represent an exhaustive list of FWS activities, rather they are examples of immediate, near-, and long-term actions we have begun. They serve as a starting point to stimulate dialogue with the non-Federal research community. We expect most of the near-term activities to continue as long-term studies and all of our assessment studies will be coordinated and integrated with other relevant injury assessment studies to quantify impacts at the community and ecosystem level.

Image of wildlife biologist sitting on front edge of boat reaching out with net to capture a distressed bird in water.
VENICE, La. - Felix Lopez with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extracts a distressed bird that flew to far from his nesting area and is too weak to fly back. July 10, 2010. Mr. Lopez, an environmental contaminant specialist, has to make a determination on a daily basis, whether or not an extraction for one bird will cause more stress on the overall bird colony. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Polly Bennett 

Immediate Science Actions

Continuation of Established Avian Monitoring Activities

  • All Agencies and partners involved in avian monitoring activities in potentially affected areas are repeating their established bird survey protocols before, during, and following this event
  • Evaluate long- and short-term trends in species abundance and composition

Aerial Survey and Photographic Census of Birds

  • Quantify the number and species composition of avian populations flying bi-weekly pelagic, nearshore, and shoreline aerial transects and by photographic censuses at breeding colonies

Background Mortality and Ongoing Assessment of Birds from Beached Animal Surveys

  • Systematically evaluate the occurrence and incidence of live and dead wildlife along shorelines using established transects
  • Quantify carcass detection probabilities and scavenging and rewash rates
  • Develop protocols for conducting similar evaluations in vegetated shorelines (e.g. marsh and mangrove)
Near-Term Science Actions
1-6 months)

Evaluation of Number and Percentage of Oiled Birds

  • Census colonies, breeding areas, roosting sites, and feeding areas to quantify the total number and percentage of visibly-oiled free-ranging birds
  • Quantify the extent of visible oil on free-ranging birds
  • Quantify mortality rates of oiled adult birds and appropriate controls using radio and satellite telemetry and color banding with appropriate controls

For Each Taxa of Colonial Nesting Waterbirds, Secretive Marsh Birds, and Shorebirds

  • Quantify the number of adult birds with visible oil and the extent of oiling
  • Quantify the number of oiled eggs and chicks and assess their fate
  • Quantify the number of abandoned nests

Long-Term Science Actions
(2 months-decades)

Transient/Wintering Bird Oiling and Mortality

  • Evaluate movement and densities of transient/wintering bird species
  • Quantify the proportion of live transient/wintering birds that become oiled in the spill affected area
  • Quantify the mortality rate of oiled birds and appropriate controls using radio and/or satellite telemetry and color banding

Pelagic Seabird Surveys

  • Quantify the number of dead floating birds in pelagic areas
  • Quantify the proportion of live birds at sea that are visibly oiled

Additional study plans to evaluate the impact of this spill on Federally listed species (e.g., snowy plover, wood stork) and prominent species living in palustrine and coastal freshwater marshes (e.g., osprey) are being developed.


colony of terns nesting. Some eggs are visible.
Nesting Terns. Credit: Drew Wirwa/USFWS

To report oiled or injured wildlife: 866/557 1401

For media: Joint Information Center: 985/902 5231 and 985/902 5240

To report claims related to damages: 800/440 0858

To volunteer: 866/448 5816

Last Updated: April 11, 2012