Friday, June 25, 2010


In November 2009 the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis) was taken off the federal endangered list after first being so placed in 1970 because of the effects of the pesticide DDT. The 2010 BP oil spill is occurring at the height of their annual nesting season in Louisiana and Alabama and has created yet another severe threat for the noble pelican, one they may not survive. The lives of three generations of Brown Pelicans including parents, juveniles and as yet unhatched eggs hang – precariously - in the balance.

The Brown Pelican is the smallest of all the great Pelicans and has many unique characteristics to include its coastal habitats and spectacular headfirst feeding dives. Its survival is critical to the environmental integrity of the Gulf Coast. The BP Oil Spill has overtaken two major Brown Pelican rookeries in Louisiana including the rookeries in Barataria Bay (Queen Bess Island) and Four Bayou Pass. Others are in imminent danger.

In a cruel irony some of the contractors that BP sent to the rookeries to clean up the oil ended up trampling many chicks and eggs as reported by Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana President Billy Nungesser who lamented, “They (the pelicans) already have the oil affecting their population during their reproduction time, now we have the so called clean up crews stomping eggs. The lack of urgency and general disregard for Louisiana’s wetlands and wildlife is enough to make you sick.” Seems that the “cure” may be almost as bad as the illness…

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials wanted to immediately start building sand berms to hold off the oil and protect the pelicans and the delicate Louisiana ecosystem but experienced delays from the US Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard who publicly and inexplicability stated they were concerned about the environmental impact of emergency barriers. Huh?

We surely understand that there could be long term ramifications of these sand berms and they have to be factored and monitored, but the immediate greater obvious good surely would indicate that some action, any action, is preferable over inactivity as we watch the Louisiana coast go down the tubes. Well, finally, and apparently with some White House prodding the plan was implemented starting this last weekend with the tab going to (tad da!) - British Petroleum. Sand berms deserve a shot at helping this situation. Let’s pray that they work…

We Buxtons have a strong association with the Pelican which has been the crest of the Buxton Family Association since its founding by great grandfather Dr. G. Edward Buxton. Myriad Buxtons have matriculated their personal coat of arms with the Pelican In Her Piety sharing honors with the noble Stag (i.e. Thomas Fowell Buxton).

For many of us the Pelican is an awkward animal with a comedic bent, witness Tennessean Dixon Lanier Merrith’s 1910 limerick "The Pelican":

A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill will hold more that his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I'm damned if I can see how the helican.

For the Buxton Family and many more the Pelican remains a constant symbol of charity, fidelity and self sacrifice. In medieval times (believed to predate the 12th century) the belief existed that, if a pelican was unable to find enough food to feed her young, she would peck at her own breast (vulning) and feed the drops of blood to her young – hence the pelican in her piety. The pelican has since become the symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist and can be seen incorporated in many churches and cathedrals and, yes, coats of arms across the Christian world.

The reality is that the magnificent Pelican has been around for over 40 million years and we surely hope and pray that the efforts to preserve and recover the Brown Pelican will be successful. As more and more information about the oil spill is grudgingly incorporated into our knowledge base, it is apparent that significant work will need to continue for many years to restore the wetlands and fisheries that these birds and many other species depend on. Organizations such as the International Bird Rescue Research Center of California and the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research of Delaware are currently at the epicenter of the bird rescue efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. God Speed…our future may depend on their success.

We pray that the Brown Pelican (and the rest of us) will be around for many more millions of years occupying their critical niche in our ecosystem. We now realize that, “The air we breathe, the water we drink, cook, and wash with, and the many chemical cycles—including the nitrogen cycle and the carbon cycle, so vital to sustain life—depend on the continued health of ecosystems and the species within them.” We Humans in our arrogance think mostly nothing of the other species that occupy this planet and their critical and strategic role in the pantheon of life. Should we not heed the message we will ultimately be standing in front of a mirror looking for companionship and a raison d’ĂȘtre realizing too late that we are alone and with no hope of recovery.

Who/What will rise to take our place?


Ned Buxton

No comments: