Rescuing Manatees from the Oil Spill

Dr. James ?Buddy? Powell was Sam Champion?s river guide for his trip to swim with the manatees.Courtesy Dr. James ?Buddy? Powell
Dr. James ?Buddy? Powell was Sam Champion?s river guide for his trip to swim with the manatees.

Sam Champion went out to shoot his "Living the Dream" segment with Philippe Cousteau and the manatees during the first days after the Deep Sea Horizon oil spill. He had no idea that the manatees he was dreaming of helping protect were about to face a new danger -- their food source was being threatened by the growing oil spill.

Sam's guide on his "Living the Dream" journey, Dr. James "Buddy" Powell, also serves as the Executive Director of the Sea to Shore Alliance. He's so concerned about manatees moving to Alabama, and specifically the Mobile Bay area, that he is planning to launch a rescue mission if needed.

"We're going to be conducting aerial surveys in the area to be looking for manatees, sea turtles, and dolphins along with Dauphin Island Sea Lab as soon as we get authorization from the US Fish and Wildlife Service," Powell said. "The purpose is to get an idea of how many manatees are in the area, and alert ground-based operations in case there needs to be a rescue."

Powell, now 56, has been working with manatees for over 40 years. At 14 he started studying manatees in the wild, and by 16 he had worked with the renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, appearing in "The Forgotten Mermaids," Cousteau's film on the beleagured manatees. The manatees officially gained endangered species status in 1973 when the Endangered Species Act was passed. The documentary was the first to bring attention to the plight of the gentle creatures, that often suffer injuries from reckless boaters or aggressive swimmers.

For the past 40 years Powell has worked all over the world to protect the manatees from the dangers posed by man. His efforts have resulted in coastal protected areas in Florida, West Africa, Central America and now Cuba.

In 2008, Powell co-founded the Sea to Shore Alliance (Sea2Shore).

"The organization was created to form a partnership of scientists and citizen volunteers with the expertise, passion, and vision to help reverse the degradation of our aquatic coastal environment, loss of species and diversity," Powell said.

This new challenge to protect the manatees and other marine species from an oil spill this large is uncharted territory.

With oil from the destroyed rig spewing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of at least 200,000 gallons per day, the effects on wildlife may be incalculable.

"In the past few months we have lost over 460 manatees primarily due to cold weather," Powell said, "surpassing the number of deaths for any year on record."

"Manatees cannot afford any other catastrophic event such as this," he added. "We need to utilize whatever resources necessary to react to this massive new threat and ensure the future survival of this endangered species."

CLICK HERE to learn more about manatees and find out how you can adopt one.

CLICK HERE to learn more the Lowry Park Zoo.

CLICK HERE to visit Dr. James "Buddy" Powell's Sea to Shore Alliance Website.