Fort Wayne Zookeepers Travel 180 Miles Daily To Clean Michigan Oil Spill Turtles

By WISE Web News

September 2, 2010 Updated Sep 2, 2010 at 11:16 PM EDT

MARSHALL, Mich. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Every afternoon for the past three weeks, Fort Wayne Wayne Zookeepers have been volunteering their time to clean oil-covered turtles affected by the Michigan Oil Spill.

"All you ever heard about was the Gulf oil spill and so it was a wake up call because it was so close," said Angie Selzer.

"We're not excited about the tragedy that happened of course but we're glad to have the opportunity to help in anyway," said Fort Wayne Children's Zoo Vet Technician Maraiah Russell.

After an 8-hour shift, it is a 180-mile round trip all the volunteers from the Fort Wayne Zoo say is worth it.

In July, about 819,000 gallons of crude oil flooded into the Kalamazoo River, affecting thousands of animals.

Experts say the window of opportunity is very very slim, so you have to hit the ground running to have any chance of nursing wildlife back to health.

Reporter: What makes you want to clean that little guy right there?

"Knowing that he got oil on him from a man made thing and he can't take care of himself, he wouldn't be able to clean the oil off himself so helping clean up a human problem," said Rachel Purcell.

The spill was caused by a broken pipeline operated by Enbridge Energy.

Fort Wayne Zookeepers say the first time they traveled to Marshall - the whole process was overwhelming.

"That's probably the third one I've seen that looks like that. So it's disheartening but it makes you want to work harder to get all that oil off," said Josh Volz.

As of September 1st, 370 turtles have been processed and put back into the wild.

However, 273 are still at the Wildlife Resource Center in Marshall and 30 to 40 turtles are being captured in need of care every day.

"You can soak him in the water, when you first get him, if he'll sit still... just get some Dawn (soap) and rub it on him with the toothbrush and just wipe it off with the gauze... getting in the little crannies that they have in the shell right there and just wiping the oil out," said Purcell.

All of the trained volunteers donate at least 3 hours per shift.

And sometimes those 3 hours still aren't enough - to thoroughly clean one tiny turtle.

"Any little bit you can do, is definitely worth it," said Josh Volz.

"This place is going to be open as long as it's needed. As long as we find oiled animals and capture oiled animals, this place will be open and available to treat them," said Wildlife Response Center Manager Chris Battaglia.

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