As millions of gallons of oil continue spilling into the Gulf of Mexico and the first wave of oil approaches landfall on the Gulf coast, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida is poised to fulfill its role of protecting and preserving water quality and wildlife in Southwest Florida. The grassroots organization, which treats more than 2,400 injured, sick and orphaned animals in Southwest Florida each year, is prepared to support relief efforts with hands-on wildlife recovery expertise, scientific research and public education in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“While the impact to our coast is still uncertain, our Wildlife Clinic teams are on alert to assist in joint rehabilitation efforts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research organizations,” says Andrew McElwaine, president and CEO of the Conservancy. “This disaster comes just as turtle season is beginning. Now more than ever, the work we do to monitor and protect sea turtles, their nests and hatching will be critical to protecting them. We can be most effective in the cleanup if we take a scientific approach and use the resources and data we’ve been building over 28 years.”

The Conservancy, which has monitored sea turtle nesting on Keewaydin Island for 28 years, has staff and interns currently patrolling nests and will immediately report the presence of injured turtles and assist them to licensed care facilities. While the Conservancy does not have certification for on-site sea turtle rehabilitation, the organization has a certified expert in oil spill animal recovery on staff and two sea turtle biologists and is prepared to assist other organizations who specialize in such care. In addition, the Conservancy has the capabilities of tagging sea turtles that are rescued to monitor their survival and recovery.

McElwaine says the team will take its cues from the Florida Wildlife Recovery Association, National Wildlife Recovery Association and International Wildlife Recovery Commission, and is preparing now to meet the impending need for support.

Public education is a key component of the Conservancy’s reaction to the oil spill crisis, and it is already disseminating information regarding what to do when people discover new evidence of the oil spill and/or animals in distress.

According to the Conservancy, if you see or smell pollution related to the oil spill call the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802. Wildlife experts who are authorized to help in the tri-state rescue and research can be reached at 302-737-7241 or hstout@tristatebird.org, and if someone comes across dead birds in Florida they should report it to the Florida Wildlife Commission at http://myfwc.com/bird/.

Because the Conservancy’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic is already at full capacity, running 24 hours a day and seven days a week, volunteer opportunities include help with basic animal feedings, food preparation, cage cleanings and washing machine duty. The Conservancy can also point potential volunteers who want to work directly on the oil spill recovery to the proper channels including the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant program portal http://gulfseagrant.tamu.edu/oilspill/index.htm and http://www.crcl.org/coalitionprograms/oilspillrecovery.html.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has set up a website to address the oil spill efforts. The public can learn more or donate to support its efforts to meet this challenge and reduce the impacts of the oil spill to habitat and wildlife at www.conservancy.org.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida began in 1964 when community leaders came together to defeat a proposed “Road to Nowhere” and spearheaded the acquisition and protection of Rookery Bay. 

The Conservancy is a grassroots organization focused on the critical environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region. Partnering with like-minded organizations, the Conservancy works to manage growth and protect area waters, land and wildlife. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida promotes sound environmental policies and practices based on solid scientific research while providing environmental education to residents and visitors. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treats more than 2,400 injured, sick and orphaned animals each year and releases about half back into their native habitats. 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Conservancy Nature Center are located in Naples, Florida at 1450 Merrihue Drive, off Goodlette-Frank Road at 14th Avenue North. 
For information about the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, call 239-262-0304 or visit www.conservancy.org.