Alarming photos of dead sea turtles washed ashore—as well as satellite images of an ever-spreading oil slick—demonstrate that a serious ordeal is ahead for the Gulf Coast. The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused a spill that has spread more than 130 miles so far. The spill has reached land in Louisiana, and is expected to reach Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. If it continues, it will surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in history. Here's how you can help:
1. Want to lend a hand? Affected states allow you to register to volunteer online. Louisiana and Florida volunteers can register online, or Gulf Coast volunteers can call 1-866-448-5816. Oil Spill Volunteers is another registration site that matches up those willing to assist with the groups that need their help. Volunteer opportunities run the gamut from wildlife sitter to administrative support, so any and all help is appreciated.
2. Florida is calling on untrained volunteers to pick up trash on its beaches to minimize the impact of the spill once it hits land. Volunteers are asked to leave natural debris in place, though, as it provides shelter for birds and other animals. If you'd like to help out with areas where oil has already washed ashore, it is recommended that you contact a local group to be trained in how to handle oil-covered materials.
3. If you're in the Gulf Coast area and see a distressed animal, do not try to assist it on your own. Injured animals can be defensive and may try to bite you—also, crude oil can be harmful when it comes in contact with human skin. A hotline has been established for injured and dead animal sightings. Call 1-866-557-1401 to leave a message with the animal's precise location. iPhone users in the Gulf can download the Noah project's app to document distressed animals and the spill's impact on wildlife. Learn more about Noah here.
4. Two specialized opportunities to help are available for qualified professionals. BP has called upon fishermen and boaters in the Gulf area to participate in their "Vessels of Opportunity" program. Those with eligible vessels will be compensated for their use in cleanup efforts. For more information, call 281-366-5511. In addition, the EPA has called upon engineers and experts to submit alternative cleanup solutions via this form.
5. However, if you're not already living in the area, it is not recommended that you travel to the Gulf Coast to assist. OilSpillVolunteers.com and other organizations stress that your help would be more appreciated in the form of a donation. The National Wildlife Federation, Alabama Coastal Foundation, and Save our Seabirds are among the many organizations accepting donations for coastal relief.
6. Dishwashing detergent is used to clean oil off of birds and animals, and Dawn is pitching in to help. Purchase a bottle of Dawn and $1 will go towards the Marine Mammal Center and the International Bird Rescue Research Center. Please note that you must go online to activate this donation—it's not automatic with your purchase.
8. For those inclined to send a political message about the need to restore the Gulf Coast, the National Wildlife Federation has created this form letter you can send to President Obama. Those in favor of halting all ocean drilling can use this form letter from the Sierra Club.
9. The Audubon Society, protecting American birds and their habitats for more than 100 years, has launched a response to the crisis. They'll be organizing volunteers for wildlife rescue and beach clean-up, as well as researching the effects of the spill on habitats in the weeks and months following its landfall. If you'd like to volunteer for the Audubon Society, you can fill out this volunteer form. If you'd like to donate money to aid relief efforts, you can use this site.
10. For up-to-date news on volunteer and relief efforts, several Twitter users have aggregated the best sources of oil spill tweets into lists. Follow Crisis Camp's list, Crisis Mappers' list, or the hashtag #oilspill. Two good individual accounts to follow are EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and BP_America.