Amy Salem began caring for the oil-covered eagle the moment she was admitted to the Carolinas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on August 11.
The bird, in West Ashley Pond, was moistened with intravenous fluids and received activated charcoal treatments to treat the effects of ingested oil it might have swallowed while brushing, or brush its feathers with its beak.
“He was completely covered in it. His feathers were stuck together,” said Saleem. “This is probably the worst case I’ve ever seen.”
Ospreys are huge white birds resembling an eagle with black markings on their wings. It is not an endangered species but is protected under the Migratory Species Act.
Ospreys are unique in that they feed on live fish and can dive to catch them, which Salem said someone who was in the care of a rehab center likely ended up in the pond. Two green herons were also rescued from the pond and treated in the Carolina Wildlife Rehabilitation Centera non-profit organization with locations in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Charlotte.
When covered in oil, other birds cannot regulate their temperature and intake, among other obvious problems such as pain and discomfort.
The oil in the pond adjacent to Ashley Crossing Drive came from the West Ashley Restaurant Rio Chico, located at 1975 Magwood Drive. Neighborhood citizens reported to the SCHS Department of Health and Environmental Control, and the state agency visited the pond with an inspector from the Charleston Division of Storm Water Management.
On August 12, the city issued a Notice of Violation in Rio Chico and gave the restaurant one week to rectify the situation.
“I think it’s important for the restaurant industry to remember how important proper disposal is,” said Stormwater Management Director Matthew Fountain, who estimates he receives 10 to 12 calls about “unlawful dumping” from restaurants each year. “It’s great if someone tells us because then we can stop it.”
Victor Castro, the manager of Rio Chico, said the broken kitchen line caused a mixture of grease and water to travel from the restaurant through the parking lot to the rainwater drain feeding the pond.
About 30 feet or so between the restaurant and the storm drain is a grease trap, where Castro said the restaurant’s excess grease is deposited and picked up once a month.
“Since it was raining a lot last week, it went really, really fast all the way,” said Castro, who has worked in Rio Chico for 18 years, while referring to the storm drain on August 15. We have the container there, so there’s no reason for us to dump the oil on the street.”
Project manager James Outten confirmed that Rio Chico has hired Moran Environmental Recovery to lead the clean-up effort. Otten, who first visited the site on August 15, was unable to explain what those efforts would entail.
Rio Chico has not been fined, and the City of Charleston will reassess the situation on August 19. Whether the oil was dumped on purpose or as a result of accidental runoff is not the city’s immediate concern, Fountain said.
“Either way, we just say, ‘Hey, we need to get this stuff out of our waterway,'” Fountain said, discussing what he expects from Rio Chico next week. “
Other injured animals have been found in the pond since the Osprey and Green Herons were rescued.
Salem said two Anhingas — two long-tailed birds sometimes called snakebirds — were on their way to the rehabilitation center on August 15, and many of the turtles will soon be taken to a local facility. Also exposed to crocodile oil.
Some animals did not survive the spill, including a hawk and two waterfowl.
The green heron and eagle remain in a stable condition, but they are not out of the woods yet. According to Saleem, the birds have gone through multiple washings — a stressful process that may require sedation — and will be in a rehab center for weeks.
Salem pointed out that the process of retrieving infected and contaminated animals with oil is continuing. More than 20 volunteers have assisted in the rescue operations so far.
“Our concern going forward is simply to mitigate environmental concerns,” Salem said. “It’s a really stressful process for animals.”
Those who wish to contribute to the welfare of these animals can make a donation to the Carolinas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. For more information on how to donate, visit cwrcwildlife.org.