Service Stories: An influx of oil, and workers, to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Jackie Isaacs is the wildlife biologist at Bon Secour, one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refuges that has been affected by the BP oil spill. Credit: Phil Kloer/USFWS
Gulf Shores, Ala. – Jackie Isaacs is on the front lines, nearly every day, as the wildlife biologist at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. A small refuge in Gulf Shores, its beautiful beaches support the nests of threatened loggerhead sea turtles and endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, snowy plovers and the endangered Alabama beach mouse.
“We normally have a permanent staff of three on the refuge, plus seasonal volunteer interns and a term park ranger,” said Isaacs, a five-year U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service veteran.
“However, since the oil hit we now have contractors from BP cleaning up our beaches. We have Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams doing assessments, researchers conducting oil-related research, Natural Resource Damage Assessment teams conducting surveys, resource advisors overseeing and minimizing impact of cleanup operations on refuge property, as well as Fish and Wildlife employees helping the refuge conduct our daily spill response operations. The office is full of people we don’t normally employ who have come to help us.”
“There has been a real outpouring from all of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees from outside of our refuge,” she continued. “People have been willing to come down and stay for weeks or even months. I can’t thank them enough. I get teary eyed when I think about how they have left their families, friends and jobs to come and help.”
Bon Secour is home to several endangered species, but much of the attention recently has focused on the loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that come ashore to build nests, lay their eggs, then return to the Gulf of Mexico. When the hatchlings emerge from their sandy nest, they make their way to the Gulf, but Fish and Wildlife biologists are concerned that they will become oiled as they attempt to get to the water. So Bon Secour has been part of unprecedented plans to re-locate threatened sea turtle nests to safe locations.
“Sea turtle surveys are normally a part of our summers here on the refuge,” Isaacs said. “But now the surveys we conduct to locate nests have taken on a new level of importance. Each morning we try to locate nests at dawn to protect them from incoming oil, as well as from crews and equipment conducting clean-up operations. Once we find a nest we determine if we have to move it due to incoming tides, locate the eggs, and mark the nest off with tape and predator screening. This year we’re also moving the nests in the late stages of incubation to the east coast of Florida for hatching and release into safe waters.
“On a personal level, it’s hard to deal with the spill every day,” Isaacs added. “However, I try to keep my head up and am proud that during these hard times I am part of an organization that is doing all they can to respond to this disaster and uphold our mission as environmental stewards.”