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Behind the scenes of 'Rescue: Saving the Gulf'

By Rob Marciano, CNN
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Gulf oil spill: Behind the scenes
  • CNN's Rob Marciano gives a behind-the-scenes look at his reporting for a CNN special
  • He spent time on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter as oil was skimmed from the Gulf
  • Marciano followed fellow animal lovers on a hunt for oiled wildlife, releasing rescued birds
  • Watch "Rescue: Saving the Gulf" Saturday & Sunday night at 8 ET on CNN

Editor's note: CNN's Rob Marciano takes you inside what may be the biggest cleanup job in the world. Watch the CNN special "Rescue: Saving the Gulf," Saturday & Sunday night at 8 ET on CNN. Here is his behind-the-scenes account of reporting the story.

From the Gulf Coast (CNN) -- I love animals and I love the outdoors. The Gulf of Mexico and the coastline that surrounds it is a special place to me and millions of other Americans.

Right now there are more than 40,000 people working to save it in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They're trying to plug the well, save the wildlife and clean up the oil.

Seeing the oil and the action up close is one thing. Getting your hands dirty and feeling the enormity of the job is another. I now understand what it takes.

Of course, the big difference between me and them is they do it every day. All day. Sometimes all night. Without complaint. These are the heroes doing their part to save the Gulf of Mexico.

When the spill happened I assumed all you needed was a few skimmers to surround the slick and suck up the oil. How naïve I am.

Video: CNN exclusive aboard Gulf skimming vessel
Video: 'Bird bartending' in the Gulf
Video: Gulf skimmer vessels prep at night
Video: Battle to protect the Gulf

One thing I've learned reporting in this oil disaster: Nothing is as easy as it seems it should be. My embed on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Elm showed me the dirty, slippery and agonizingly slow process of skimming weathered Gulf sweet crude. It's a nasty business.

Searching for, rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing oiled wildlife is also a process that requires agility, patience and, most of all, a gentle touch.

My embed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had me based on a barge in the middle of the marsh. I followed fellow animal lovers on a hunt for oiled wildlife.

The rescued birds were brought to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Buras, Louisiana, where they're cleaned, given medical care and nursed back to health.

I got to hand feed a sick baby pelican -- an emotional moment words can't describe -- followed by transporting rehabilitated birds to Texas, where we released them into an oil-free wildlife refuge. Another emotion-filled spiritual rush.

Cleaning the beach seems easy. Well, it's not -- especially in 100-degree blazing sun and relentless humidity.

I took the required hazmat training course and suited up for a full day of tar ball pickin' fun. OK, it wasn't really fun -- but it made decent TV. "Rescue" wraps up on the lighter side with an appreciation for the guys working the beach dressed in rubber and Tyvek.

I had the opportunity to go shoulder-to-shoulder with the men and women out here getting it done, and it's an experience I'll never forget. I hope you'll join me on the journey and tune in to "Rescue: Saving the Gulf."

[Fellow CNNers Tracy Sabo, John Murgatroyd, Kevin Myers, Dominic Swann and Beth English worked behind the camera and sweated it out with smiles every step of the way. Good times.]

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