It seems like every hour there are new, devastating photos of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — enough to make your blood boil. From suffocated birds unable to surface from beneath the oil-covered water to sea turtles washing up sticky and black, the reality of the situation is sinking in, and a lot of people want to help.

But if you just get in your car and drive down to the coast, you're going to be disappointed — untrained volunteers can do more harm than good, and Daily Finance reports that untrained volunteers are being turned away in droves.

"Access is difficult and complicated in the immediate spill area," says National Wildlife Federation (NWF) senior scientist Doug Inkley in an interview. "You never know where you are going to run into the oil. ... Don't simply go down there and say, 'here I am'”, he says.

So, what can you do?

DO: Report oil sightings. If you live in the Gulf area, you can still help responding organizations by reporting oiled shoreline at (866)448-5816. If you spot oiled wildlife, don't try to capture it yourself; call (866)557-1401.

DON'T: Send in your hair. Initially, there was a call for hair donations from San Francisco-based Matter of Trust to make absorbent mats for the cleanup effort, but boxes of hair are piling up around the nation, and it looks like the mats might not even get used.

DO: Donate funds. The National Wildlife Federation is seeking donations in any amount to help the group preserve the many species that are threatened by the spill. The Environmental Defense Fund also needs funds so its emergency response team can continue working.

DON'T: Boycott BP gas stations. While it may make you feel better to spend your money elsewhere, you're not hurting BP — you're hurting local station owners. BP isn't exactly stepping up to help its retailers weather the storm of public outcry, and many of these business owners are already squeaking by on extremely slim profit margins.

DO: Reduce your oil consumption. Oil is everywhere in our homes, including the places you'd least expect — cosmetics, paint and cleaning products. Cutting back may just be one of the most powerful ways you can make a difference. Check out Matt Hickman's comprehensive list of ways to cut back oil usage around the house.

DO: Spread awareness. Participate in demonstrations in your area, forward news stories to your contacts or simply discuss the spill on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. While it would be all too easy for most of the nation to put this disaster out of mind, Gulf residents will be living with this nightmare on a daily basis, and we can't let it happen.

DO: Push for legislative action. 2010 is an election year, but only a fraction of registered voters typically turn up for mid-term voting. Head to the polls and vote for local candidates who support environmental protection, including a new U.S. energy policy. You can also send a message to President Obama demanding a stop to offshore drilling through a form at the Sierra Club website.

Want up-to-the-minute updates on the response to the spill? is packed with all the latest information including live footage and press briefings. You can even get alerts sent straight to your phone. 

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