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10th Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference a Great Success

The 10th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference held from 5-9 October 2009  in Tallinn, Estonia was a great success. 148 Participants from 25 countries and 6 continents gathered in the Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel to discuss the Conference theme, Science, Planning and Cooperation to Minimise the Effects of Oil on Wildlife, which was addressed in 56 presentations by 40 authors. Whereas the scientific programme took place from Tuesday to Thursday, the participants also had access to most interesting pre and post conference programmes, including four short courses on the Monday and three practical laboratories on the Friday.

The 10th EOW Conference was organised by Sea Alarm, the Estonian Fund for Nature and Oil Spill Response, in close cooperation with International Bird Rescue Research Center and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research. The generosity of the sponsors of the event, Port of Tallinn, ExxonMobil, BP Shipping, KIK, Fastank, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel allowed the delegates to participate in the event at relatively low cost. In addition, 22 delegates from 11 different countries were granted a scholarship which meant they were able to attend the conference free of charge and part of their travelling expenses was covered.

The Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conferences are essential events for anyone working in fields relating to oil pollution and its effects on wildlife. In the course of its 27 year history – the first event was held in 1982 – strong relationships have been built up between leading oiled wildlife responders from across the world that have discovered EOWs to be ideal platform for exchange of information. Because of the high standards of papers and the informal atmosphere in which these papers are presented and discussed, the EOWs offer a wealth of information for anyone interested in the subject and are the key events to hear about new developments and solutions from across the globe.

This Conference added a new chapter to this tradition. The feedback from a large number of participants was that they enjoyed the quality of the papers, the varied and interesting programme, the unique atmosphere in which participants wanted to share knowledge and experience and the great setting of Tallinn with superb conference facilities. Some participants intimated that this conference was the best ever, setting a new standard, which was great for the organisers to hear.

Opening session and keynote address

This jubilee edition was opened by the Estonian Minister of the Interior, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Environment and the Chairman of the Environmental Committee of the Estonian Parliament. All three gentlemen emphasised the importance of being prepared for oil spill response in general and signified the progress made by Estonia in getting better prepared for oiled wildlife response over the last few years. The Chairman of the Estonian Fund for Nature welcomed the participants on behalf of the Organising Committee and thanked the sponsors and all the individuals and organisations that had worked so hard to bring the 10th edition of the Conference to Europe for the second time.

Andrew Tucker of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation delivered the key note address of the Conference in which he provided an overview of oil spill response since the Torey Canyon incident in 1967. He demonstrated that science and cooperation were fundamental to the enormous development in oil spill response technology over the last 40 years. Although each new spill is unique and brings its own challenges, as illustrated by the example of the Hebei Spiri incident in 2007, Andrew stated that sharing knowledge between spills and having response plans in place are the key success factors to the effectiveness of any oil spill response. He characterised oiled wildlife response as a relatively new field in this development and encouraged the conference participants to treasure the value that science and cooperation can bring to the table, to keep oiled wildlife response firmly on the map and establish its integration into oil spill response planning and response in the wider sense.

Scientific programme

After the opening ceremony and the taking of a group photo in the restaurant of the Conference Centre, the three day scientific programme commenced. Sixteen parallel and plenary sessions were held around various topics, including Effects and Chronic Oiling, Prevention and Rescue, Rehabilitation Methods, Post Release, Case Histories, Training and Volunteers, Veterinary, Planning and Industry. The session chairs, who were all members of the Programme Committee, were complimented by the participants for their time keeping skills. Each session started on time and the coordinated approach allowed participants to switch between the different sessions smoothly without missing anything. Amongst the many highlights of the programme were presentations on Effects of spilled non-oil substances on marine wildlife, oiled wildlife risks in the Arctic and a report on the recent wildlife response following the grounding of the Full City in Norway. All the abstracts and presentations are already published on the Conference website, allowing not only the participants, but also a wider audience, to re-visit the presentations and download the abstracts and papers at any time.

Round table discussions

In the evening of the first day, two round tables were held. The first discussed the need for further scientific research. The moderators of this session, Kees Camphuysen (Royal NIOZ)  and Greg Massey (Oiled Wildlife Care Network), challenged the audience to design a priority list of research topics, recognising needs in the fields of Impact Assessment and Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation. The second Round Table discussed the need to develop standards for oiled wildlife response. This discussion revealed less clear answers, although its most prominent conclusion was that rehabilitation efforts should be based on well defined protocols that can demonstrate scientific evidence of their success, measured in terms of post release survival.

Short courses (Monday, October 5)

As part of the pre-conference programme, three short courses took place on Monday October 5.In the morning, Curt Clumpner (IBRRC) and Bill Dwyer (DwyerTech) moderated the Facilities for oiled wildlife response: Hands on course. Here participants were introduced to the elementary choices and backgrounds of selecting and modifying a so called “building of opportunity” into a temporary facility for oiled wildlife rehabilitation. Decades of experience became available to the participants by means of a few lectures, after which the delegates could put the lessons learnt into practice during a table top exercise.

In the afternoon, three parallel courses took place. Barbara Callahan (IBRRC) and Heidi Stout (TriState) jointly facilitated the course Issues of an oiled wildlife response, which started off with some lectures after which the participants were divided into three groups for a table top exercise. Using the knowledge gained from the presentations, the delegates had to work on different tasks following the notification of a mock oiled wildlife incident, including making a press release and developing a plan of action for the next 24 hours.

The short course called Basics of oil spill response was presented by Rob Holland, Gail Nxumalo (Oil Spill Response) and Andrew Tucker (International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation). Here delegates were provided with key knowledge on how to respond to an oil spill incident. The course was tailor made to provide oiled wildlife response experts with an understanding of what is likely to happen in the wider response scene of which the oiled wildlife response often is only one of the many topics that need to be considered and integrated.

The course on Impact Assessment was delivered by Kees Camphuysen (Royal NIOZ) and Martin Heubeck (SOTEAG) and provided a thorough introduction to the importance and elements of preventing oiled wildlife incidents by using quality information in the combat of oil at sea, as well as gathering scientific information from oiled animals in the immediate aftermath of an oil spill event.

Laboratories (Friday, October 6)

Delegates could register for one of the three laboratories that were taking place Friday October 9,. Two of these labs were organised in Keila Wildlife hospital, a 45 minute bus ride from Tallinn. One of the labs was an advanced course on oiled bird washing. Twelve participants had an opportunity to see the differences between the washing methods of different organisations and were allowed to try themselves, washing a number of dead mallards that were made available for this event. This was done under the supervision of the moderator, Curt Clumpner, who was assisted by various experienced washers from the US and Europe.

The other laboratory held at Keila looked at the technique of post mortem analysis. For this laboratory over 30 dead seabirds were available and all participants were allowed to do a dissection of an animal following instruction and guidance from the lab moderators, Kees Camphuysen and Martin Heubeck.

The third laboratory looked at the techniques for capturing oiled birds on beaches. This course started in one of the conference rooms with an overview of background and theory. Later, the delegates were taken by bus to a beach near Tallinn to put this theory into practice. The main star in this event was Roboduck, a remote controlled “duck on wheels” which posed quite some challenges to the participants who attempted to capture it on the cold and freezing beach! This lab demonstrated seamless cooperation between the course facilitators, Rebecca Dmytryk  and Duane Titus of Wildlife Rescue from the US, and Geoffrey Edmond from the UK Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Sea Alarm’s contribution to the Conference

At the Conference, Sea Alarm gave three presentations and facilitated a Question and Answer session. Sea Alarm’s Roser Gasol presented the Country Wildlife Response Profiles database that Sea Alarm has been building since 2005. The preparedness of over 70 coastal countries across the world has so far been examined in this project, resulting in a myriad of information that is stored in the database. Roser presented a first analysis of these data and provided a ranking of countries in four different categories of preparedness.

Hugo Nijkamp presented EMPOWER, the new European initiative to promote the cooperation between authorities and NGOs in marine wildlife emergencies. Very soon interested wildlife organisations will be invited to join EMPOWER by becoming a member of the European EMPOWER network. The presentation gave an overview of the history of EMPOWER, its objectives and the various activities that are envisaged.

In the evening after this presentation, an EMPOWER Question and Answer session was held. Although starting at 1900, the meeting still attracted over 45 conference delegates who demonstrated their serious interest in the initiative. By answering various questions Hugo Nijkamp, who moderated the session, took the opportunity to explain the initiative to the audience. It became clear that EMPOWER offers a unique platform to develop stronger bonds between specialist NGOs in different European countries and their respective authorities. Through EMPOWER, European NGOs can build their own quality standard for marine wildlife emergency response, including standards for oiled wildlife rehabilitation, Impact Assessments and emergency management.

In another presentation, Hugo Nijkamp presented the challenges of building a global service for oiled wildlife response. Sea Alarm is facilitating closer cooperation between the leading oiled wildlife responders in the world, to be able to effectively respond to an oiled wildlife emergency wherever it happens. The presentation highlighted the structure of cooperation and the various procedures to build up a response effort after a call out. This project has been set up to provide voluntary global response potential to the Members of Oil Spill Response, but once in place, it could also be valuable outside the industry context.

Its not all work work work……

Conference participants were cordially invited by the Mayor of Tallinn to a welcome reception on the evening of Monday 5th October at the Town Hall in Tallinn’s old town. There participants were treated to talks on the history of the building, which dates back to the 13th century, before enjoying drinks and canapés in this beautiful setting. Later the same evening, an Icebreaker drinks reception was held in the bar of the Tallink Spa and Conference Hotel, giving people another opportunity to meet, greet and get to know each other before the conference programme kicked off on Tuesday morning. After two days of the programme, conference participants were able to relax and enjoy themselves at the Wednesday night Conference Gala dinner held at the historic “Teachers House”. A local rock band provided the entertainment and much fun was had in the Silent Auction, raising a grand total of €666, which was awarded to the Estonian Fund for Nature, in recognition of their hospitality and hard work in organising the conference. On behalf of the Organising Committee, Hugo Nijkamp from Sea Alarm presented Heidi Stout and Jay Holcomb with a statue of “Old Thomas”, the guardian of Tallinn, to commemorate the 10th EOW and as a mark of gratitude to Tri-State and IBRRC for having founded and continued this important Conference series over almost 30 years.



The main follow up from this Conference will be the knowledge and experience that the almost 150 participants have taken home, and the way their new insights will influence the quality and direction of their work at home. In order to make the results of the Conference accessible to those that participated and any other interested person or organisation in the world, the Conference website will remain available for the years to come, a service that will be provided by Sea Alarm. The website contains all abstracts and presentations of this conference and will collect the extended abstracts and papers when they are received by the Programme Committee. A call has been made to the organisers of previous EOW events, to attempt making the results from those conferences available in a digital format where possible.

When and where the 11th Effects of Oil on Wildlife will be held is as yet unknown. For sure it will be held again in the US and maybe in 2 or 3 years from now. That conference will perhaps celebrate 30 years of EOWs and hopefully report on a wide range of new developments in many parts of the world thanks to science and cooperation.


Sea Alarm enjoyed the cooperation with its co-organisers to make this Conference a success, and a big thank you goes to our fellow Organising Committee members of the Estonian Fund for Nature (Agni Kaldma and Jüri-Ott Salm) and Oil Spill Response (Rob Holland, Gail Nxumalo). Many do not realise that more than a year of planning and preparation precedes the actual conference, all coming to a climax at the conference itself. It’s very rewarding to see that our common efforts in such a great and friendly atmosphere have resulted in such a great conference!

Our special personal acknowledgement goes to our ex-colleague and dear friend Rosalie e’Silva who worked with Sea Alarm for more than a year in the course of 2008-2009. Just before the EOW she had to move to Cornwall where on the 1st of October she started a one year course in Broadcast Journalism. She deeply regretted not being able to attend the EOW, after so much time she had enthusiastically worked on this project to make it a success. We owe Rosalie a lot in this respect and without her perhaps things might not have come to such a great end. We wish Rosalie all the best with her exciting new life and look forward to keeping close contact with her!

Then we would like to thank the sponsors of the event and also all those people that have so significantly contributed to its success, all of whom are listed on the conference website (see Acknowledgements,

Lastly, it cannot be said strongly enough that Sea Alarm’s independent and impartial work in Europe and on the global scene is made possible thanks to its most important contributors, Oil Spill Response and the European Commission.

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