Baltic Region makes progress on wildlife response planning

HELCOM Baltic Region

The Helsinki Commission (HELCOM)

Of the nine coastal states in the Baltic Region, five have developed plans for oiled wildlife response and others have made progress toward this goal, according to a HELCOM report.  

While images of oiled wildlife are commonly used to evoke reactions to spills, nationally coordinated strategies for dealing with impacted wildlife are a recent phenomenon and remain rare in much of the world. The Report on the status of National wildlife response plans in the Baltic Sea, issued in March 2017, showed that five Baltic States have addressed wildlife issues in their national contingency plans.

The report used a Self-Assessment Tool, created by Sea Alarm, to assess the relative preparedness in each of the Baltic States. The Tool has been adopted by HELCOM RESPONSE to monitor progress, from year to year, toward having improved wildlife response preparedness in place in the Baltic Area, in line with the objectives of HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6.

The report is the first formal product of the Expert Working Group on Oiled Wildlife Response (EWG-OWR) which was created by HELCOM RESPONSE in order to assist in the implementation of Recommendation 31E/6. The EWG-OWR includes representatives of the wildlife agencies in each of the HELCOM Contracting Parties who are responsible for developing wildlife response plans in their country. Hugo Nijkamp of Sea Alarm chairs the EWR-OWR.

HELCOM (Helsinki Commission – the governing body of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area) first included oiled wildlife response in its 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan and developed Recommendation 31E/6 as a formal, non-binding, instrument to back oiled wildlife response cooperation in the Baltic Sea in 2010. In doing so, the Helsinki Convention is the only Regional Agreement in the world to have set clear, achievable goals for integrating oiled wildlife preparedness and response into its regional emergency response systems.

Interestingly, all reporting countries noted the need for initiation of, or improvement in, exercises and trainings, which are vital to effective response. Plans which have not been tested in exercises, and personnel who have not attended training are less likely to function smoothly, as gaps are often identified during such activities, allowing responders to make improvements to plans prior to a spill event happening.

While the target of the Recommendation has not been completely met, there has been significant progress and the region is better prepared to work cooperatively should a spill involving wildlife occur. Having Observer status in HELCOM, Sea Alarm will continue working with the EWG-OWR in 2017 to assist in furthering preparedness goals of the participating Baltic states.

The full report can be accessed on the HELCOM website.