Rescue Workers Trying to Save Birds Affected by Oil Spill - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

11/22/04

Rescue Workers Trying to Save Birds Affected by Oil Spill

The Coast Guard and cleanup crews are starting to wrap up a long week off the coast of Savannah. On Wednesday, the cargo ship Fortune Epoch started leaking fuel into the ocean about ten miles off the coastline. It continues to float offshore, its future still uncertain as officials with the Coast Guard and the cargo ship discuss what to do next with the leaking vessel.

The size of the fuel spill is still unknown, but crews have mostly completed their clean=up efforts along the coastline. Earlier in the week, clumps of tar were found washing up on shore. But now some of the area's wildlife may be in trouble.

Birds known as common loons have been found covered in the oil. Crews with the wildlife rehabilitation group Tri-State Bird Rescue are helping the birds affected by this oil spill. So far, 17 birds have died as a result of the spill, 23 birds have been sighted by crews covered in oil.

Of those 23 ,13 of the animals have been recovered. But catching them is a challenge. "They beach themselves very close to the water and at any kind of movement that they see, they turn around and go back into the water," said Dr. Heidi Stout with Tri-State Bird Rescue. "They struggle in the water and it's difficult at times to catch them."

Once the birds are rescued, they're brought to the Oatland Island Education Center, where they are treated and monitored for their conditions. But it still could be weeks before officials determine that they are healthy and they are released back into the wild.

The main focus now is helping the animals and making sure the coastline is once again safe for them to return to. Crews say they'll continue to search for the birds by boat and by helicopter for as long as it takes.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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