Amy Salim began caring for an oil-covered osprey as soon as she was admitted to the Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on August 11.
The bird, found in a West Ashley pond, was rehydrated with IV fluids and given activated charcoal treatments to treat the effects of ingested oil it may have swallowed while preening or cleaning its feathers with its beak.
“He was just absolutely covered in that. His feathers were sticking together,” Salim said. “This may be the worst case I have ever seen.”
Ospreys are huge white eagle-like birds with black markings on their wings. They are not an endangered species, but are protected under the Migratory Species Act.
Ospreys are unique because they feed on live fish and can dive to catch them, which is how Salim said the one in the rehabilitation center’s care probably ended up in the pond. Two green herons were also rescued from the pond and cared for at the Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, a nonprofit organization in the Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Charlotte areas.
When covered in oil, ospreys and other birds cannot regulate their temperature and eat, among other obvious problems like pain and discomfort.
The oil in the pond next to Ashley Crossing Drive came from the West Ashley Rio Chico Restaurant, located at 1975 Magwood Drive. Citizens of a nearby neighborhood informed the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the state agency visited the pond with an inspector from the city’s Department of Stormwater Management. of Charleston.
On August 12, the city issued Rio Chico a notice of violation and gave the restaurant a week to remedy the situation.
“I think it’s a valuable thing for the restaurant industry to remember the importance of proper disposal,” said stormwater management manager Matthew Fountain, who feels he receives 10 to 12 calls about “illegal spills” from restaurants each year. “It’s great when someone lets us know because then we can stop it.”
Rio Chico manager Victor Castro said a broken kitchen line caused a combination of grease and water to move from the restaurant through the parking lot to a storm drain that feeds the pond.
In the roughly 30 feet between the restaurant and the storm drain is a grease trap, where Castro said excess grease from the restaurant is deposited and picked up once a month.
“Because it was raining a lot last week, it went really, really fast out there,” said Castro, who has worked in Rio Chico for 18 years, while pointing to the storm drain Aug. 15. “We have the container right there, so there’s no reason for us to dump oil on the street.
Rio Chico has hired Moran Environmental Recovery to lead the cleanup efforts, project manager James Outten confirmed. Outten, who first visited the site on August 15, was unable to elaborate on what those efforts would entail.
Rio Chico was not fined and the City of Charleston will reassess the situation on August 19. Whether the oil was intentionally spilled or the result of accidental runoff is not the city’s immediate concern, Fountain said.
“Anyway, we’re just saying, ‘Hey, we gotta get this stuff out of our waterway,'” Fountain said, discussing what he expects from Rio Chico next week. “Normally we want to see that there has been a genuine good faith effort.”
Other animals have been found injured in the pond since the osprey and green heron rescues.
Two anhingas – long-necked, long-tailed birds sometimes called snake birds – were on their way to the rehabilitation center on August 15, Salim said, and several turtles will soon be transported to a local facility. An alligator was also exposed to the oil.
Some animals did not survive the spill, including a falcon and some waterfowl.
Osprey and green herons remain in stable condition, but they are not out of the woods yet. According to Salim, the birds have gone through several washes – a stressful process that can require anesthesia – and will remain at the rehabilitation center for weeks.
The recovery of injured and oiled animals is underway, Salim said. More than 20 volunteers have participated in the rescues so far.
“Our concern for the future is just to alleviate environmental concerns,” Salim said. “It’s a very stressful process for the animals.”
Those who wish to contribute to the care of these animals can donate to the Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. For more information on how to donate, visit cwrcwildlife.org.
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