On April 20, 2010, the world was shocked by a massive explosion on a British Petroleum oil rig, "Deepwater Horizon," off the Louisiana coastline. Over the next 87 days, nearly 5 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico creating the worst spill in U.S. History. More than 9,400 birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals were found injured or dead in the six months following the spill, representing only a fraction of the total loss. In the aftermath of this disaster an outstanding group of girls and women turned their focus and energy to the relief and recovery of the Gulf region. These individuals have made spectacular contributions to the restoration effort, both in the field and at a distance, through volunteering, grassroots outreach, faith-based organizing, governmental aid, media communication, local business support, and non-profit work. The distinguished "Women of the Gulf" represent the veritable army who worked and continue to work tirelessly along the frontlines of this environmental tragedy. On this first anniversary, it is impossible to imagine the Gulf recovery effort without the unwavering commitment of these exceptional women in conservation.
Soon after the Gulf spill, "All Things Considered" host Melissa Block traveled to Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish for a series of stories on the impact of the disaster both on the environment and on fishing. In one report, Melissa examined the impact of the spill on the iconic Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican, whose population had been nearly wiped out by the 1960s. Other stories on "All Things Considered" focused on efforts to rescue oiled birds and gauge the long-term effects on bird habitat and breeding. "It's so important that we not lose sight of this story," Melissa says. "The Louisiana coast had already taken such a beating even before the spill. It's my job to make sure we help listeners grasp what's happening there."
Kelsey A. Blum, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Slipper Rock University, worked with the National Audubon Society as Alabama's Volunteer Coordinator in response to the Gulf oil spill. Serving as the Audubon Society presence in Alabama, Kelsey implemented four new programs, including an alternative spring break opportunity for students in biology and environmental studies, a habitat restoration project, and two citizen science monitoring programs. Before her work with Audubon, Kelsey was an immediate responder for five U.S. disasters between AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and Lutheran Episcopal Services in Mississippi (LESM). She was recognized with the Team Leader of the Year Award and the bronze, silver, and gold Congressional Awards.
At only eleven years old, Olivia handwrote a fundraising proposition to the Audubon Society: she would donate drawings of birds to raise money for the Gulf efforts. With 500 paintings and over 28,000 Facebook fans, Olivia has helped raise $155,000 for the relief effort. To honor the anniversary of the spill, Olivia released a children's book, Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf, with part of the profits going to Audubon. For her dedication and committed effort, Olivia received this year's Artist Inspiring Conservation Award from the National Audubon Society in Mill Grove.
Twenty-one year old Christine Chung, an intern for the Student Conservation Association, was deployed to Grand Isle, Louisiana after requesting to join the Gulf response team. She temporarily left her SCA internship to serve as a Technical Specialist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and assisted with reconnaissance and recovery work in Barataria Bay. Working directly with wildlife affected by the spill, Christine recovered as many as 11 ailing birds in one day.
A documentary filmmaker, writer and professor, Elizabeth Coffman is a native Floridian with a home in Tampa Bay. She began recording the environmental crisis in the gulf seven years ago with Louisiana poet Martha Serpas. Martha, Elizabeth and filmmaking partner Ted Hardin have co-produced "Veins in the Gulf," a feature-length documentary about Louisiana's land loss, the BP oil disaster, and the oil industry's history of marsh destruction. The film will be released this fall.
Resee Collins served as a Paraprofessional/Volunteer Coordinator of Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers in four states, enlisting and organizing trained wildlife professionals to provide assistance to injured and oiled wildlife. Over 1000 paraprofessionals signed up from across the United States, as well as other countries to provide assistance. Resee's position also utilized volunteers from the National Audubon Society in fulfilling a much needed role to keep safe any injured and oiled wildlife brought ashore by rescue teams, making sure the birds were kept out of the sun and coordinating with the transport teams to transport these animals to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers.
As Audubon's Director of Bird Conservation for the Louisiana Coastal Initiative, Melanie played a pivotal role in the organization's response to the Gulf disaster. She initiated Audubon's volunteer response to facilitate wildlife survey and rescue efforts. She provided biological interpretation and served as an informed interface between the relief effort and other Audubon staff, the news media, the public, and the larger environmental community.
Annie Ducmanis Adams is the program and grants manager for the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health (www.gulfcoastfund.org), a collaborative fund launched in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and run by Gulf Coast community leaders. With the Fund since its inception in 2005, Ms. Ducmanis Adams has been instrumental in ensuring that the organization responds quickly to emergencies in the region. Immediately following the BP oil drilling disaster, Ms. Ducmanis Adams oversaw the distribution of over $400,000 in emergency grants to first responders in frontline communities across the Gulf Coast, and conducted outreach that resulted in at least $1,000,000 in additional support to communities on the ground. She also works to connect leading national environmental organizations, media, and federal responding agencies to the Fund's extensive network of grassroots leaders, ensuring that there is a strong and vital community voice speaking for the Gulf's environment and its residents.
Crystal Durbin is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and wife of a Major League baseball player. She helped organize three different fundraisers for the Gulf Coast. One, at Citizens Bank Park home of the Philadelphia Phillies, another at the triple A affiliate Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs stadium, and also an online auction of autographed bats and memorabilia from 13 Major League teams raising $40,000. In addition, to help bring more awareness to the devastation, Crystal helped secure a MLB network film crew to video her trip to the Gulf for TWIB (This Week In Baseball) with the Audubon Society.
Juliet Falchi is an administrator of Global Product Development at Estee Lauder Companies for Jo Malone and La Mer. Shocked and saddened by the tragic events of the Gulf oil spill one year ago. Juliet partnered with friends Jennifer Ritter and Eva Yean and organized the "Clean Up The Gulf" fundraiser to support the Gulf relief and recovery program and to bring awareness to environmental causes among their contemporaries. Audubon's extensive on-the-ground crews in the Gulf and their long history of environmental support provided the perfect partnership to raise funds directly benefitting the Gulf's rich wildlife. With the support of the Audubon team and her friends and family, Juliet rose over $35,000 to aid the cleanup effort and inspired a new generation of environmental activists.
Dr. Angelina Freeman
Angelina Freeman is a coastal scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, DC, and works on restoring natural system functioning of the Mississippi River Delta. Angelina received her B.S. from Eckerd College, her M.S. from Pennsylvania State University, and Ph.D. in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences from Louisiana State University.
As a resident of Grand Isle, Louisiana's only inhabited barrier island, Sue lives with a unique perspective concerning the conservation and preservation of a fragile ecosystem. It is her personal charge to facilitate continued support through The Grand Isle Community Development Team, Inc. with activities that keep the island's progress before the public. GICDT publishes a monthly newspaper, sponsors a ladies fishing rodeo, an environmental themed fine art exhibition, migratory bird celebration, historical home tour, spay and neuter program for feral cats, publish a directory of services of local businesses and currently working on a walking/bike path as an alternate route to school for local children. She is proud to chair a wonderful group of volunteers, who love the island and want to make a difference.
As the Executive Director of BISCO, a faith based nonprofit organization, Sharon's personal and organizational mission is to help give voice to those who have none. After the Gulf Coast disaster, Sharon saw that Gulf Coast Fishermen and community members also affected by this disaster had many questions that were not being addressed. She arranged for her organization to host the first community meetings and brought in federal officials and BP officials to answer these questions where all could hear the responses. Sharon held 14 of these sessions, with as many as 400 people participating in the sessions, for a total of over 1,500 people affected. She also advocated in Washington DC for responses to the many questions not answered and other concerns of the Gulf Coast.
For Jennifer, the Gulf of Mexico wasn't just an assignment, it was her home. The Mississippi native was working as an SCA intern at nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore when the park began seeing the effects of the BP oil spill. Following the Deep Water Horizon disaster, Jennifer underwent hours of hazardous materials training, conducted exhaustive wildlife patrols, and used a response hotline to summon rescuers to oiled wildlife.
A key member of The Nature Conservancy's Gulf of Mexico team, Judy spent countless hours focused on post-spill recovery and long-term restoration efforts in Mobile Bay and the larger Gulf region. She helped conceptualize and initiate the "100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama" project to build 100 miles of oyster reefs (essential to shoreline protection and wildlife habitat) and enhance 1,000 coastal marsh and seagrass. With public and private funding, The Nature Conservancy and its partners installed the first Â¼ mile of reef this past winter with the help of public agencies, private partners and more than 600 volunteers from throughout the country. Stay tuned for the remaining 99.75 miles.
As Executive Director of Coastal Women for Change (CWC), Sharon serves as a resource for Biloxi residents struggling to recover from the BP oil spill and the devastating hurricanes of recent years. Working at a local level, Sharon has encouraged residents to be political voices in the reconstruction of their community. Following the spill, she held training sessions on advocacy, and partnered with Gulf Coast Restoration to distribute fact sheets about the oil spill in English and Vietnamese, making answers accessible to all community members.
Lisa Margonelli is a writer and long-time proponent of new energy policy. She spent years researching a book about the global oil supply chain called Oil on the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank. She is also a fellow at the New America Foundation, where she works on energy policy. Following the Gulf spill, Liza was asked to write a number of op-eds, and do radio, TV, and other video appearances to put the spill in political and historical context. Lisa has been disappointed that the country has not enacted legislation to reduce its oil demand--and thus spills--as a result of the Gulf Oil Spill.
Dr. Erica Miller
As the staff veterinarian for Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Dr. Erica Miller was the lead medical officer for the birds treated as a result of the spill in the Gulf. She spent over 5 months directly treating birds brought to Ft. Jackson and Hammond, LA, and consulted on cases being treated in the other 3 states (MS, AL & FL). Dr. Miller worked with Drs. Heidi Stout and Hayden Nevill to create the treatment protocols, and oversaw the banding of the birds that were eventually returned to the wild.
Lexie first fell in love with New Orleans during her work with the Humane Society of NY, rescuing lost and abandoned animals after Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, Lexie sprung into action offering strategic and supportive help to Audubon staff member and coast relief responder, Melanie Driscoll. Lexie trained at midnight out of Melanie's hotel room, taking notes on coffee cups and napkins, and working over ninety hours a week. After tireless weeks working as a volunteer, Lexie was hired by Audubon as a volunteer coordinator, and today helps maintain Audubon's ongoing relationships throughout the Gulf Coast.
Based out of New Orleans, Amanda Moore worked with her coastal community contacts to help share the story of the Gulf Disaster through the eyes of those most directly affected. Amanda blogged from the frontlines, organized and participated in media tours with local coastal experts, and worked with high profile individuals to help them share the story of the disaster. Today, she continues to speak on the issue and works with her NWF team to advocate for funding to restore the Gulf ecosystem.
Regan Nelson is the Senior Oceans Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council and has been an integral part of NRDC's work responding to the Gulf tragedy and oil disaster. She has worked hard lobbying Congress and the Administration to implement strong oil spill prevention and response measures, and focusing national media attention on the issue. Regan continues to help shape Congressional legislation, and recently organized a Congressional briefing on the ongoing impacts in the Gulf, featuring Gulf residents whose lives have been upended due to the spill. In addition, she maintains a regular blog on NRDC's Switchboard.
Cyndi is the Executive Director of Viet Initiative Economic Training (VIET). VIET works to develop educational and economic training programs and serves as a resource center, seeking to eliminate existing barriers between Vietnamese residents and English speaking citizens in New Orleans. In response to the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill, Cyndi dedicated herself to assisting "beaucoup" families affected by the disaster. She was encouraged by the kids in VIET's After School Program and, one year later, continues to push for balanced relief for families hurt by the spill.
Beth has worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Alaska for ten years and currently manages the Migratory Bird Permit Office. In that capacity, Beth was invited to the Spill by fellow migratory bird permit program employees on May 9 to assist them with the logistics of ramping up rehabilitation efforts. She started working in Houma, Louisiana, and did not leave until July 22. In her time at the Spill, Beth worked to establish a program that provided safe and appropriate transportation of oiled wildlife to rehabilitation facilities, and the transport of rehabilitated wildlife back to their release sites.
Iliana A. Peata
As Audubon's Director of Conservation for Texas, Iliana worked with partners and volunteers to assess Texas coastal bird populations providing vital coastal bird population data for the Gulf. While Texas remained untouched by oil from the spill, her Texas Coastal Stewardship Program works to ensure a healthy coastal bird populations throughout the Texas coast recognizing that Texas birds will serve as a source population for affected states in the Gulf as their habitats recover.
Rosina Philippe, is a lifetime resident of the coastal village of Grand Bayou in Louisiana and is an advocate for the preservation of indigenous traditional, cultural and heritage practices. She believes that through informed education and information gathering and sharing, "we the people", have the power to affect positive long-term changes that will reshape how we live and determine the future of our planet. Her collaborative work with other community leaders focuses on: Racial Justice, Economic Sustainability, Coastal Restoration/Preservation, and Environmental Degradation. She is vocal on the issue of recognizing accountability, and identifying contributing factors and entities in relation to these issues. Rosina believes the work we do today is our legacy to the future as we build towards a more resilient and sustainable life.
When Jennifer Ritter heard about the oil spill in the Gulf Coast she felt compelled to do something right away. After researching several charities, Ms. Ritter and her two friends chose to work with Audubon because of their extended efforts and quick response to the crisis. With the support of their family, friends and the Audubon, Jennifer and her friends were able to create the first ever Young event for Audubon New York. This premiere raised $35,000 for the Audubon's gulf relief efforts.
In the face of the B.P. oil spill tragedy, Erin chose action over resignation. Her combined efforts in organizing a fundraiser at Citizens Bank Park, coordinating a charity auction of autographed Phillies memorabilia, and arranging an online auction with the assistance of 13 Major League teams raised nearly $40,000 for Audubon's Gulf Coast Fund.
Traci Romine was the Climate Campaign and Communications Director for Audubon of Florida when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010. She immediately kicked into gear a coordinated response, working with her Florida and National Audubon colleagues, to prepare and disseminate beach clean up protection protocols, liaison with response agencies, and maintain regular contact and help organize the tens of thousands of volunteers who demonstrated from day one an amazing commitment to help and protect the precious life and ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.
As Director of Audubon's Volunteer Response Center, Jillian plays a fundamental role in managing the short and long-term volunteer response to the BP oil disaster. Jillian has worked tirelessly to manage the response to over 35,000 people across the country and effectively place hundreds of individuals in volunteer positions across the Gulf Coast.
Jacqueline Savitz is a senior scientist and senior campaign director for Oceana, where she leads Pollution Campaigns focusing on climate change, oil and gas, and clean energy. During the Gulf Spill, and throughout the response and recovery period, Savitz has been an outspoken critic of offshore drilling, and has educated many about the harm it causes to ecosystems. She has made dozens of television and radio appearances, and debated many pro-drilling opponents. Oceana's work during the oil spill helped to counter industry messages calling for more drilling, and contributed to the President's decision to place a ban on drilling in areas of the Atlantic coast that he had previously indicated would be open for exploration.
Emily Guidry Schatzel
Emily Guidry Schatzel is a native and resident of Houma, Louisiana in Terrebonne Parish. She serves as the National Wildlife Federation's Coastal Louisiana Communications Manager and her work focuses on drawing media attention to the issue of Louisiana's rapidly vanishing coastal wetlands. Dring the Gulf oil disaster, Emily worked with NWF's Louisiana team to coordinate national media outreach. She organized boat and aerial tours of the affected inshore and offshore areas and brought media out on nearly daily trips to see and report on the oil, while raising national awareness that Louisiana is in need of comprehensive, large-scale restoration. Graduate of Nicholls State University and Loyola University New Orleans with a J.D. and an M.A. in Communications, Emily lives with her husband Mark on Bayou Black, where she was born and raised.
Dr. Nina Schoch
Dr. Nina Schoch is a wildlife veterinarian with BioDiversity Research Institute of Gorham, Maine, and the Program Director for BRI's Wildlife Health Assessment Program. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Dr. Schoch led BRI's avian health assessment project to evaluate sublethal effects of oil exposure to wild bird populations. The results of her work will help assess the extent of physiologic damage that oil causes to bird populations, which may not be readily apparent, but could lead to increasing susceptibility to disease, poorer long-term reproductive success, and/or survival.
Dr. Susan Shaw
Susan D. Shaw, DrPH, is a marine toxicologist, director/founder of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, and ocean advocate who is celebrated for her pioneering research on the impacts of chemical contaminants in the marine environment. As one of the first scientists to dive into the Gulf of Mexico oil slick in May 2010, Dr. Shaw observed first-hand how oil and dispersants were impacting life in the water column. An outspoken and influential voice on ocean pollution, she has influenced the national debate on the hazards of chemical dispersants. Currently she leads a region-wide investigation on the effects of oil and dispersants in the Gulf ecosystem.
As Science Director for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Natalie has dedicated her career to the protection and restoration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands. During the oil spill, Natalie worked diligently with BP, state and federal agencies, local municipalities, scientists, elected officials and industry to understand the ever-changing dynamics of the oil impacts to Louisiana's wetlands and coordinate science input on the response and disaster-management techniques. Natalie also manages CRCL's Community-Based Restoration Program which utilizes volunteers for on-the-ground restoration projects. Unable to engage volunteers directly with the oil response, Natalie focused the efforts of over 1,800 volunteers on restoration of the Louisiana coast: planting over 130,000 new grasses and trees and installing over 3,800 feet of dune sand fencing.
Lisa is a senior scientist in the oceans program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She works on a variety of topics including sustainable fisheries, ocean acidification, and the Gulf oil spill. Lisa has a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University and master's degree in environmental policy from the Yale School of Forestry. Her scientific research focused on evolutionary genetics and the process of speciation. However, she now specializes on the intersection of science and policy, as it applies to ocean conservation issues.
In response to the BP Oil Disaster, Wilma Subra on behalf of Subra Company, Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper immediately initiated monitoring of the environmental and human health impacts associated with the BP crude oil spill and dispersants, and educating the communities along the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the pan handle of Florida. The protection of the health of coastal communities and fishermen/cleanup workers required not only conducting community workshops, but interacting and educating federal, state and local regulatory officials. Documenting of the human health impacts and extent of environmental contamination was and continues to be done in order to assess the impacts of the BP Oil Disaster.
Jacqui Sulek - Chapter Conservation Manager for Audubon in Florida - has been promoting conservation work with Florida's 44 Chapters for over 6 years. She has played a vital role in providing meaningful and valuable volunteer opportunities in the Gulf Coast relief effort. Gifts for the Gulf involved 15 chapters and over 200 volunteers. For two days, decoys of Beach Nesting Birds nestled in beach sand educated Simons Malls visitors on the spill and its tragic impacts on coastal ecosystems. Working with the National Audubon Volunteer Resource Center team, and her conservation colleagues Julie Wraithmell and Traci Romine, she tapped into the existing powerful network of chapters and encouraged, supported and celebrated existing and new Bird Steward Programs along the Gulf Coast.
Reporting on behalf of NBC as the network's Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent, Anne Thompson delivered on of the most comprehensive, powerful and distinguished accounts of the largest oil spill in U.S. History. Anne's analysis of the spill addressed all aspects of the "Deepwater Horizon" explosion and its complex aftermath. According to the Tyndall Report, this extensive coverage made Anne the NBC News Correspondent with most airtime in 2010.
Patty Whitney is a lifelong resident of and passionate advocate for Louisiana's coastal communities. She has worked as a community organizer with BISCO (Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing) since 2005, as her beloved communities have undergone five major disasters in a five-year period: four major hurricanes and the BP Oil Disaster. She serves as the director of the Bayou History Center and is the current president of both the Lafourche Heritage Society and the Terrebonne Genealogical Society. Patty has been named the Louisiana Coastal Communities Ambassador for the Environmental Protection Agency, and has won recognition as Louisiana Spirit's "Unsung Heroes," for her work after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and National Wildlife Federation's "Top 10 Unsung Heroes of the Gulf Oil Disaster."
Maura Wood helped launch the expansion of National Wildlife Federation's Coastal Louisiana Restoration Campaign in 2007. In partnership with other national and local groups, she advocates for bold, large-scale restoration of Louisiana's disappearing coastal wetlands by reconnecting the Mississippi River with its delta. During the oil spill, she used media opportunities to educate the nation about the importance of restoring a healthy, resilient coastal ecosystem. She holds a Masters Degree from Louisiana State University in Oceanography and Coastal Science, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
Julie Brashears Wraithmell
Julie is the Director of Wildlife Conservation for Audubon of Florida. In the days after the Deepwater Horizon blowout, she and her colleagues worked to recruit and deploy volunteers to assist with spill monitoring and response on Florida's coastline, developed public awareness information about beach nesting birds and the harm that could be caused by well-intentioned clean up volunteers, deployed volunteers to post beach-nesting bird colonies in Panhandle state parks, and worked tirelessly to navigate the maze of response agencies. At the same time under Julie's direction, Audubon recruited, trained and utilized volunteers to protect beach-nesting birds from disturbance statewide. A year after the disaster, under Julie's leadership, Audubon is helping to prioritize Florida Gulf Coast sites of highest importance to these bird populations and improve their monitoring and management.
Last April, right after the BP Oil Spill happened in the Gulf Coast, Eva Yean quickly approached her friends about ways to help the animals and ecosystems deeply affected by the crisis. Ms. Yean and her two friends chose to partner with Audubon after learning of their quick response efforts and efficient ground work in the Gulf region. With the support of their families, friends, and Audubon, Eva and her friends were able to create the first event that Audubon New York has hosted for young New Yorkers. The Clean Up the Gulf! Event at the Ace Hotel raised $35,000 for the Audubon's Gulf relief efforts.
Defend the Endangered Species Act
Urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reject proposals that weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Get Audubon in Your Inbox
Let us send you the latest in bird and conservation news.
Find Audubon Near You
Visit your local Audubon center, join a chapter, or help save birds with your state program.