PHOTOS: Keys workers gather mayonnaise, dish soap for cleaning oil off wildlife

Andy Dobrowolski, a sea turtle rehabilitation specialist at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key, feeds squid to one of the loggerhead turtles undergoing rehabilitation at the center. The turtle hospital is the only state-certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles and while the loggerhead turtle is not on the endangered list several environmental organizations are fighting to get them added. The center is taking some precautionary measures to prepare for the spill by ensuring the facility is ready for turtle relocation and that supplies are well-stocked in case of an emergency. Photographed on May 21 2010. Manuel Martinez/Staff

Photo by MANUEL MARTINEZ // Buy this photo

Andy Dobrowolski, a sea turtle rehabilitation specialist at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key, feeds squid to one of the loggerhead turtles undergoing rehabilitation at the center. The turtle hospital is the only state-certified veterinary hospital in the world for sea turtles and while the loggerhead turtle is not on the endangered list several environmental organizations are fighting to get them added. The center is taking some precautionary measures to prepare for the spill by ensuring the facility is ready for turtle relocation and that supplies are well-stocked in case of an emergency. Photographed on May 21 2010. Manuel Martinez/Staff

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— Mayonnaise, dish soap and kiddie pools might seem like unlikely weapons in a battle against oil.

But soap cleans the feathers of oiled birds, mayonnaise helps wipe oil from sea turtles’ skins, and kiddie pools can house turtles that can’t swim in oil-contaminated waters.

The turquoise waters off the environmentally sensitive Florida Keys are safe from oil for now, but no one knows for sure what will happen in the coming days, so wildlife rehabilitators are preparing just in case the spill moves their way.

“Sea turtles are already endangered, and now we’re looking at not only the effect of the oil on the bodies of the turtles, but also the habitat loss and the potential effects on nesting,” said Tara Vickrey, a rehabilitation specialist at the Turtle Hospital on Marathon Key. “We’re worried about past, present and future.”

The hospital staff has done hazardous materials training so they can work with oiled animals if it comes to that, and they also have collected supplies and drawn up emergency relocation plans.

Forty-three turtles live at the hospital now, including 15 patients that are recuperating from surgery, 17 permanent residents that cannot be released into the wild and 11 that are being rehabilitated. They include loggerheads, greens, hawksbills and Kemp’s Ridleys.

Because the large pool where many of the turtles live is actually a tidal pool fed by water from the bay, the hospital has had to come up with a relocation plan, Vickrey said. They have two 36,000-gallon tanks where some turtles would be held, and others would be moved inside the turtle hospital into kiddie pools.

“We are doing our best to be ready in case of a catastrophe,” she said. “But we have seen no turtles covered in oil, and those tar balls on Key West were not connected to the oil spill, so we hope that it doesn’t come and that the news of the possible problems doesn’t stop people from visiting.”

Friday afternoon, Turtle Hospital staff dipped a large net into the 100,000-gallon tidal pool and caught Bender, a Kemp’s Ridley turtle. Bender suffers from bubble-butt syndrome, when trauma to the shell causes a turtle to float and prevents them from diving.

To allow Bender to live a normal life at the hospital, staff members attach a weighted belt to the shell so the turtle can dive and swim.

Kemp’s Ridley turtles are critically endangered, with 95 percent of the females breeding on one beach in Mexico, Vickrey said. It’s a species that experts are worried might be affected by the spill, especially if there are long-term habitat, food supply or nest site effects.

Staff at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier on Key Largo also were getting ready.

“We will be ready to take whatever comes in,” said Vered Nograd, director of the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center’s hospital. “We have a lot of carriers and a lot of cages that we are preparing just in case anything happens.”

Concerned community members have been calling asking how they can help if oil gets closer, Nograd said. The cleaning process for oiled birds is complicated, and any volunteers who want to help with cleaning animals or beaches will need to have special training.

British Petroleum has contracted an organization to do the cleanup for birds – Delaware-based Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research.

“What they’re asking right now from all the rehab places is if we get birds in, we stabilize them for 24 for 48 hours before they can be washed,” Nograd said. “Most of those birds would be in a state of hypothermia, with their body temperature very low, because they’ve been soaking in water because the oil removes the waterproofing on their feathers.”

Washing one oiled bird takes up to five people and up to 300 gallons of water, and to strip the oil off the feathers, the water has to be heated to 104 or 105 degrees. The rescue agency would come in with water heaters, pools, drums and all the equipment.

Then, the birds could be transferred back to the centers for the rest of their rehabilitation.

If the oil threat had happened two months ago, it would have been even worse, Nograd added, since that’s when there are even more birds in the Keys as they migrate northward for the summer.

“Every few days they’re saying, oh it’s going this way, oh it’s going that way,” Nograd said. “We’re dealing with the currents and the weather, so there’s no way to know. We just have to be sure that if it happens we have what we need.”

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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