Profile: Drew Wheelan

1996 Environmental reporter

Drew Wheelan '96

Environmental reporter

Drew Wheelan rose to national prominence as an environmental reporter during the aftermath of the May 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

In his position as blogger and Gulf Coast Conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association (ABA), Wheelan exposed to the world what was really happening on oiled shorelines from Texas to Florida. Living mostly in his truck, on a shoestring budget, he launched a multimedia blog for the ABA that quickly came to be regarded as one of the most credible sources of on-the-ground information about the disaster.

In it, he documented the terrible consequences for Gulf Coast birdlife and ecosystems, his visit to BP’s Louisiana headquarters to demand the company stop using the toxic dispersant Corexit (and his harassment by local police), and the lack of environmental oversight associated with the cleanup. He also chronicled the valiant efforts of activists and scientists who responded to the tragedy and helped protect endangered least tern nesting habitat from destruction by BP contractors. His work quickly gained attention from the mainstream media: he was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper; his footage appeared on national news broadcasts; and he was mentioned and/or quoted in Wired, the San Francisco Chronicle, the London Review of Books and other outlets.

A native of Narragansett, R.I., Wheelan came to Evergreen to study ecology and agriculture and learn about organic farming, but when he took an ornithology class, he says, he quickly “became distracted by birds.” This distraction has certainly had positive consequences: His Gulf reporting increased public awareness about the plight of birds and the need for conservation. As a result of his work, he has been tapped as a keynote speaker and workshop leader at several organizations’ conferences and meetings, including one with the nation’s oldest ornithology organization, the Nuttall Ornithological Club, at Harvard University.