Volunteers might be needed for oil spill – but, tourists are for sure

Thousands of Northeast Mississippians traveled to the Coast after Hurricane Katrina to furnish food and water, clean up debris and rebuild houses, churches and schools.
With the Deepwater Horizon oil spill now being called the nation’s worst natural disaster, many area residents may be wondering how they can help.
Some Web-based references for volunteering seem rather circular, with each referring visitors to other organizations’ sites and phone numbers.
The Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service has announced a new volunteer-based “Coast Watch” program to report injured or oiled animals, oiled shoreline or a change in air quality along Mississippi beaches and coastal habitats. While most Coast Watch volunteers will be residents, frequent or long-term visitors may be included, and training will be provided.
“Coast Watch is the first line of defense for coastal communities facing possible oil impact,” said Brandi McNeil, MCVS deputy director.
Oily materials will be handled only by trained, paid workers – not volunteers. To apply for such jobs, go to www.mdes.mississippi.gov.
Boat owners were being signed up in earliest stages of the crisis for a variety of tasks, but a Deepwater Horizon Response Center spokesman said Wednesday, “Right now the need for additional vessels is limited.”
The National Audubon Society is opening a new Volunteer Response Center at its Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point. The volunteer center will offer training of several types and aims “to channel the energies of a growing force of volunteers seeking to help birds, wildlife and habitat to weather the assault of the Gulf oil spill.”
“It is essential that our efforts are coordinated and everyone is given the best opportunity to help,” says an audubon.org statement. “Some activities are dangerous and require special training. Please avoid going to affected areas or handling wildlife until you are part of coordinated responses. Even well-intentioned people can inadvertently interfere with important recovery efforts. Please be patient as the massive operation to respond to this spill ramps up.”
One thing that area residents can do that would definitely help the Coast is to visit there. Gov. Haley Barbour said on “Fox News Sunday” this week, “The worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what’s going on down here. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear; come on down.”

ON THE WEB
■ www.epa.gov/bpspill/techsolution.html – to
submit a technological idea for oil spill mitigation
■ www.volunteermississippi.org – to sign up with the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service
■ web1.audubon.org/news/pressRelease.php?id=2580
– to sign up as an Audubon volunteer

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal