Law Enforcement
Northeast Region

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, One Year Later - In Their Own Words

Employees from the New York District Office of Law Enforcement who were deployed to the
Gulf reflect on the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


McCabe ATV

Kathryn McCabe

Kathryn McCabe, an investigative case specialist at the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream N.Y., went to the Gulf at the end of Aug. 2010.

What did you do while you were deployed to the Gulf?

“I was deployed to the morgue at the bird rehabilitation center in Hammond, Louisiana. I heard some people turned down this deployment due to the nature of the work, but I was excited to be a part of the response in any way that I could. Our job at the morgue was to properly maintain evidence. We received, processed and preserved birds that died as a result of the oil spill and then transferred them to the Service special a gents who were tasked with the investigation.  We also coordinated with NRDA and various entities involved in the clean-up, particularly by compiling and distributing daily reports of the dead birds received in Hammond.”

Was it difficult emotionally?

“It was difficult to see the extent of the devastation and know this is an ongoing disaster. Seeing the amount of dead birds that were brought to the Center every day was difficult for someone who wants to protect and conserve wildlife. The birds we received weren’t the end of it – there will be environmental impacts for years to come. But you have to be able to separate yourself from that part of it. I was working with an amazing group of people and we knew we were doing the best we could to have a positive impact on cleaning up the disaster.”

What went into your decision to volunteer?

“For me, there was just no question. When I heard that Fish and Wildlife Service employees would have the opportunity to volunteer, I knew 100 percent that I wanted to go. As soon as I found out that Law Enforcement inspectors and my position were cleared to be able to go down there, I immediately put my name in the system. I was probably kind of annoying about it – calling my supervisor every day. To be a part of the response to such a major national incident and be able to give back was huge. So there was never a question that I wanted to be a part of the clean up.”

Why did you feel so strongly about it?

“I felt strongly about volunteering in the Gulf immediately because I’m extremely passionate about wildlife, conservation and the environment. Being part of the Service and participating in the cleanup was a huge opportunity. The cleanup, the response, and everybody coming together to participate all reflect the Service’s mission. It exemplifies how committed all the employees are.”
 
What are your thoughts looking back on your experience as we reach the one-year anniversary of the spill?

“I’m just so grateful to have been a small part of the response. I met really incredible people and got to experience the Service’s mission in action. We were able to collaborate with other agencies, locals, and individuals from the public and private sector. It was an amazing experience to see everyone working so passionately to conserve our nation’s wildlife.

Looking back on it now, my wish is that we continue to work towards preventing a potentially avoidable disaster like this from occurring again. As a nation, I hope that we can be a little bit more proactive instead of being put in a position where we have no choice but to be reactive.

The Service's response to the spill was a true team effort and it’s important to recognize the significant contributions of those who didn't deploy. Those who remained in their duty stations had to work harder to ensure that their offices continued to run smoothly and efficiently while their colleagues were on the ground in the Gulf. The wildlife trade doesn't stop in the wake of an environmental disaster. At one point, three employees from Valley Stream were in Louisiana responding to the spill, and everyone at home pitched in to make sure that daily operations continued. I am honored and proud to be a part of the Service and the Office of Law Enforcement.”


Mulkeen

Robert Mulkeen

Robert Mulkeen, a wildlife inspector at the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Champlain, N.Y. went to the Gulf in late Aug. to early Sept. 2010.

What did you do while you were deployed to the Gulf?

“I was a READ, which stands for Resource Assistant. I was monitoring the contractor clean up on the beaches on the approximately five miles of beachfront at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. We basically made sure they didn’t run over any migratory birds or sea turtle nests. At the time, the big concern was for the piping plovers that were migrating back to the Gulf and piping plovers are endangered. But the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all migratory birds. The contractors were really good about avoiding bird nests. If there were any piping plovers or other birds, we would mark it off and the contractors would know to not go anywhere near them.

The refuge was probably in 60 percent better condition than it had been. It had been cleaned up quite a bit, but there were still oil deposits and tar balls washing ashore and tar mats buried underneath the sand.”

What went into your decision to volunteer?

“I just thought it was important to me personally to go down there and do my part. I’m retired from the Naval Reserves so I’m used to taking two-week details all the time for almost 13 years out of my Naval career."

What are your thoughts looking back on your experience as we reach the one-year anniversary of the spill?

“I would say it was impressive to see how much work was being done and how many people were actually involved. I would do it again if need was there or if I was asked to. Even if I weren’t employed by Fish and Wildlife I would have probably tried to go down and volunteer on my own.”


Sanchez

Leilani Sanchez

Leilani Sanchez, a wildlife inspector at the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream N.Y., went to the Gulf twice: to Louisiana at the end of July and to Florida in Sept. 2010.

What did you do while you were deployed to the Gulf?

“In La. I worked as a technical specialist with the immediate response team. We were on the water and our primary mission was to rescues any oiled birds that we came across. It was very physically challenging because we’d go on remote islands, looking for any oiled or injured birds that came on land. We were also tagging deceased birds.

It was pretty hard emotionally to see injured birds. We found big brown pelican – a protected species – that had oil on it. Not only was it oiled, but it also had a broken wing and unfortunately, they eventually had to put him down. It was difficult to find out after we had rescued the pelican that there was no hope for it and it was put down.”

Why did you decide to volunteer?

“When I saw on the news, the devastation that was happening in the Gulf, I just wanted be part of the clean up. When the Service was asking for volunteers, I put my life on hold, got my family to help out with my son and said ‘I have to do this.’ I’m really glad I did it – it was a great experience to see everyone from the Service, other agencies, and the locals coming together as a team. It was so important to me to be part of that team.”

It sounds like you had to make some significant sacrifices.

“It was hard, but luckily, my Mom stepped up to the plate. She’s a great grandma. She took care of my son, made sure he could go to summer school and do all the things he needed to do. She helped out on both deployments. But I know it was hard on my family – I felt it. But I promised my son lots of presents when I came back. So he was happy about that. He wants to be a Lego designer when he grows up so I bought him lots of Lego kits.
 
It was a sacrifice I knew I had to make. My family and coworkers were both incredibly supportive. That made the difference. It made it a lot easier.”
 
What are your thoughts looking back on your experience as we reach the one-year anniversary of the spill?

“I going to get in touch with some of the people that I worked with. They were phenomenal people and I learned a lot from them. I got to work with the best of the best – from different regions and walks of life – and we all came together in a short period of time.”


Thompson

John P. Thompson

John P. Thompson, a wildlife inspector at the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement in Valley Stream N.Y., went to the Gulf in Aug. 2010.

What did you do while you were deployed to the Gulf?

“I worked at the bird rehabilitation center in Hammond, Louisiana. My functional duty was evidence custodian to maintain the chain of custody. It was certainly law enforcement related and I drew on my prior experience as a wildlife inspector to conduct the position.

While I was working at the rehabilitation center, there would be injured or dead wildlife coming into the center. We would transfer the live, injured birds to the center’s rehabilitators. Part of my job was to make sure the deceased birds were appropriately tagged and recorded for keeping track of all the wildlife that were affected by the oil spill.

The view from our perspective was that this was an open investigation, where potential wildlife violations may have occurred, so we were accounting for the wildlife that were damaged as effectively evidence of those potential violations.”

What went into your decision to volunteer?

“I realize that the Service’s mission is quite dynamic, but it includes protecting wildlife. That’s usually what I do in my law enforcement position – protect wildlife that are presented for import or export, make sure that live animals are humanely transported, and make sure there are permits for any protected wildlife going through, whether it be a live animal or a product. That is the protection aspect of the Service’s mission. But there’s so much out there. Much of my background is working for refuges and for endangered species programs. The Gulf was a place where there was damage being done, so there was a law enforcement aspect – the open investigation – but there was also the ecological aspect of mitigation.

Was it difficult emotionally?

One aspect that I recall was seeing an individual bird come through that was hanging onto survival at the point it was received at the center. I remember seeing the bird and it was so heavily oil coated, it was difficult to tell what species it was. The rehabilitation staff did there best to keep the bird alive, but even with the heat lamps and with the blankets that they wrapped around the bird, they were not able to save it. So one day I saw this individual bird that had a chance at life and I was there to witness the life being taken away. It was a direct result of the oil spill. I could really see the effects of the oil spill through that individual bird and that certainly stirs up some emotions – to see something living and die right in front of me. I saw the passage from life to death.

With that in mind, I was also able to see a lot of birds be rehabilitated. There were a lot of outdoor pens. There were a lot of birds that came through that were oiled and some died after they came and a lot that lived. That just shows the positive effect of joint efforts and what they can do in helping to mitigate the damage done by humans.

What are your thoughts looking back on your experience as we reach the one-year anniversary of the spill?

“I’ll be considering how the Gulf oil spill was one disaster that is still going to have long-term consequences. There is still clean up that is being done. And unfortunately, it is not going to be the last ecological disaster. But with the amount of people that I was working with to mitigate the damages, the cooperation across programs and with different agencies and volunteers I saw, there’s definitely hope for the future.”

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Last updated: January 9, 2012