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Elegant and Royal Terns. © Beedie Savage CC BY-NC 2.0.

Silver Lining: Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network

Many people were upset as they watched the unfolding devastation of wildlife and habitat caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Some were also troubled by the realization that there weren’t adequate baseline data on the birds of the Gulf to assist decision-makers responding to the crisis.

“There were bird data, but the bird data were limited and very disjointed,” says the Service’s Randy Wilson. His colleague, Jeff Gleason, agrees: “Outside of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment effort, there was no standardization. Monitoring efforts had been site-specific and short term.”

“The spill highlighted our need to do a better job monitoring,” Wilson says. “It was the impetus for us to come together as a group.”

Approximately 20 conservation professionals began to address the situation in November 2013. The group, now known as the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GOMAMN), has grown to include more than 100 individuals from state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and partnerships. Wilson and Gleason lead the network’s coordination committee.

GOMAMN provides a forum for conservation partners to collaboratively identify gaps in data, share information, advance standardization, and combine resources and expertise. The common goal is a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated, scientifically rigorous Gulf-wide bird monitoring program. Without such a monitoring program, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of management and restoration efforts.

“The goal is to learn what bird populations are doing in and around the Gulf,” says John Tirpak, the Science Coordinator for the Service’s Gulf Restoration Team and GOMAMN member. “Because the better you understand them, the better you can restore them.”

The members of GOMAMN are working toward answering the fundamental questions: the “what, where, when and how” of monitoring birds in the Gulf. Wilson says that although there’s still work to be done, GOMAMN is helping develop monitoring projects to better assess restoration projects. “So the network’s products are already influencing restoration on the ground,” he adds.

For instance, the Seabird Surveys being implemented under the Gulf of Mexico Marine Assessment Project for Protected Species use GOMAMN models to inform the fundamental project objectives and survey design for seabirds.

When, inevitably, the next crisis hits the Gulf, such as a large oil spill or severe hurricane, GOMAMN will be ready to assist with baseline data and standards that all the parties have already agreed upon. As a result, Tirpak says, “You’ll see a coordinated response arrive at faster.”

The 2010 oil spill was a disaster of unprecedented proportion, and it’s hard to find a positive side to it. Nonetheless, Tirpak says, “We saw an opportunity to bring everyone together, to really talk about what we collectively need, not what we individually need.”

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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