On June 22, Cindy Samples, a refuge ranger for the Upper Mississippi River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, left Winona, Minnesota, and headed down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Samples thought she’d spent her two weeks helping in Spanish Fort, Alabama, but after she got there, she soon transferred to Pensacola Beach, Florida.
"My job was a public information officer and what that entailed was to talk to the public about what our crews were doing," Samples said. "The crews that I was assigned to were wildlife recovery crews.”
Samples says the four-person crews would respond to calls about oiled wildlife. If the birds were dead, they were taken to be processed. But if they were still alive, the crews would capture them and take them to a nearby wildlife rehab center.
Samples says their goal was to get the birds to the rehab center within an hour of capturing them to clean them inside and out.
“They use Pepto-Bismol for inside of the birds because once the bird starts preening…they’re ingesting oil and that’s where damages starts to hurt inside as well as the outside," she said.
Samples says thankfully they were able to rescue and release dozens of birds during her two weeks on the Gulf. She says the birds were treated and released in the same state they were captured.
“If you liken this to any other kinda disaster…something like a hurricane, that damage is done in a day or minutes," Samples said. "The oil is a continuous process. It keeps coming in."
Samples says she never got a chance to see the pure-white, sandy Pensacola Beach before the oil spill. Instead, she says she got used to seeing tarballs and contaminated wildlife.
“I was walking with a man on the beach," Samples said. "He said, 'The beach looks a lot cleaner than it was this morning, but it’s still odoriferous.' And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, 'You can’t smell the salty sea anymore. It smells like a parking lot.’”
Samples says she still worries about birds flying in and stepping in the oil on the beach. But she’s happy she was able to do what she could to help.
“It was very challenging and very educational and I’m honored to have gone to help in this response."
An oil response that Samples says is the biggest one in American history.
Samples says two of her coworkers at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Refuge in Winona, Minnesota, have also gone down to the Gulf to help.