Voluntourism After the BP Oil Spill

It will take thousands of volunteers and countless hours to clean up after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf Region. Here are some ways you can help.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil


Photo by: Win McNamee

Win McNamee

It will take thousands of volunteers and countless hours to clean up the mess left in the wake of disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf Region. It also takes time for organizations to mobilize volunteers. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're interested in lending a hand.

While organizations are grateful for the outpouring of help, it's important to follow the requested protocol when volunteering. If an organization requests that you contact them only by submitting a form on their website, don't follow up with a barrage of phone calls.

Don't be surprised if it takes time to hear back from the organization. Remember, there are thousands of other citizens who also want to help, and that's great news.

Much of the work assisting with injured wildlife requires trained professionals to do the job. However, the behind-the-scenes volunteer work is equally important as volunteers may be needed to perform more seemingly mundane tasks, like answering phone calls or organizing schedules.

If you find that the opportunities are limited by either space or specialized skills, keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to channel your energy in other environmental projects in your state or around the country.

Here are some of the organizations that are working to help in the region.

Deepwater Horizon Response
When the call came for volunteers, the response was immediate and intense and calls from interested participants flooded call centers. The Deepwater Horizon Response is the official command center for updated information on the progress of the oil spill and volunteer opportunities. You may contact the Deepwater Horizon Response Volunteer Request Line at (866) 448-5816 or contact individual states volunteer ventures for details.

The National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society is working to protect and help the injured birds and other wildlife. The organization has set up a volunteer response center in Moss Point, MI, to serve as the central hub for all volunteer activity. Potential volunteers are invited to fill out a detailed form online with contact information and details about specialized skills that may be of service. Volunteers may be called upon to help with a variety of jobs. Hands-on tasks may include collecting data and photographing coastal birds and the impact on the shoreline or helping to build nets and cages that trained professionals will use during wildlife rescue efforts. Birding experts may help out on the Bird Hotline to address questions that may come up about bird species and sightings, while office workers may help out with scheduling volunteers, managing daily operations, organizing training sessions and providing logistical support.

Matter of Trust
If you are interested in volunteering but don't live in the Gulf area, there are still plenty of ways to help. While organizations are always looking for financial donations, the Matter of Trust organization is sponsoring a Hair for Oil Spills program. The group is requesting donations of hair, fur, fleece and nylons that are used to make hair booms that will absorb oil from the water. Cut your own hair or work with local salons to collect hair clippings or collect animal fur from a dog grooming spot. Even used nylons, with or without runs, are useful in building these oil-absorbent booms.

Coalition of Active Stakeholders Team (COAST)
While some organizations have an ample number of volunteers, many continue to collect names for future projects. The Coalition of Active Stakeholders Team (COAST) is a joint effort between the Alabama Coastal Foundation, Mobile Baykeepers, BP, the US Coast Guard and the state of Alabama to coordinate volunteers. There's no immediate need for volunteers, but the organization is collecting contact information that may be used in the future.

Alabama Wildlife Federation
The Alabama Wildlife Federation is recruiting volunteers -- ideally those with experience in environmental cleanup -- on its website so there's a list of specialists available if necessary. The site also provides a hotline number and instructions if you encounter oil-covered wildlife, the most important tip being to not approach or touch any injured wildlife.

Alabama Coastal Foundation
The Alabama Coastal Foundation has joined with other organizations to train local citizens to become Volunteer Field Observers. After attending a training program, these local residents help assess the situation on Alabama's shoreline by gathering data and providing up-to-date information on the affects of the oil spill on the coast. Participants set off in canoes or kayaks to explore areas along Alabama's shoreline and record images with digital cameras and video. Information on upcoming training sessions will be available on the website as additional dates become available.

Volunteer Florida
Volunteer Florida has already organized thousands of volunteers to clean up the state's beaches and coastline in preparation for the moving oil spill. Now that volunteers have completed this pre-oil-landfall cleanup, the world waits to see what direction the oil will move next. Potential volunteers can provide contact and background information on the Volunteer Florida website and may be called on to assist based on their skills. Volunteers may be recruited to act as Coast Watchers or to provide administrative and website support. Due to the dangerous nature of oil spill sites, trained professionals will be used instead of volunteers to assist in cleaning up contaminated areas.

Volunteer Louisiana
Sadly, the state of Louisiana is no stranger to natural disasters in recent years. The Louisiana Serve Commission is working to gather volunteer information through the Volunteer Louisiana website. Once prospective volunteers complete registration and training sessions, they may be called upon to assist with pre-impact beach cleanup, as well as to maintain sites, monitor wildlife or provide transportation assistance. Volunteers are also needed to fulfill administrative duties like managing donations and working at command posts and volunteer reception centers.

LA Gulf Response
The LA Gulf Response is a coalition of the area's active wildlife and natural preservation advocates. Five organizations -- Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Audubon Society, the Nature Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy -- have joined forces to address the threats from the BP oil spill. They are compiling volunteer information from an online registration form and may call on these potential volunteers as more needs arise. All volunteers must be at least 18 years old, and while many positions do not require special skills, the organizations are requesting applications from pre-veterinary students and those people with training in properly handling wildlife.

Volunteer Mississippi
Volunteers looking for opportunities to help in Mississippi may contact Volunteer Mississippi as well as national organizations, including the National Audubon Society and the Deepwater Horizon Response.

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