The 13th edition of the International Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference took place in Baltimore, Maryland in May, presented by Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and hosted by the National Aquarium.
The Sea Alarm team was there in force; presenting workshops and papers, chairing conference sessions and connecting with friends and colleagues from around the world at what is the only international conference dedicated to oiled wildlife preparedness and response.
This year’s event was built around the themes of ‘Preparing, advancing and responding.’ Over 50 papers were presented during the course of the week, including case studies, research findings, new technology, and recent national and international developments. The Sea Alarm team presented on a wide range of topics: from the European Commission-funded ‘EUROWA’ project and a 5-year preparedness project in the Netherlands, to a modelling tool for simulating oiled wildlife response and a paper on the implications of new oil industry guidance on tiered preparedness and response.
As part of a closing panel discussion, representatives from key stakeholders (NGOs, the oil industry, and government) reflected on achievements to date, as well as future challenges to be solved. There was acknowledgement of the significant advances that have come about in the course of the EOW conference’s history (from 1982 to present), including greater international collaboration, technical advancements and further inclusion of, and recognition for, oiled wildlife response within the wider oil spill response community, including the oil industry and governments.
However, the panel also recognized that more work is needed to truly integrate oiled wildlife into overall response efforts and that a much greater emphasis must be placed on developing local (Tier 1) and national (Tier 2) response capability in many parts of the world through training and exercise programmes. A conclusion from the discussion was that without this investment, oiled wildlife response efforts would be severely challenged, even with the aid of experienced international responders.
The issue of funding was also noted, in particular the challenge wildlife response organisations face in finding sustainable business models. Although the number of spills has reduced year-on-year, the risk of incidents remains, especially when considering new methods of oil transportation, new shipping routes, and larger container vessels.
In addition, the skills and experience of oiled wildlife response organisations have value and application beyond oil spill response and the potential for increased environmental threats brought about by climate change – such as algal blooms, over-fishing, and cold stun events – should be firmly on the radar when considering emergency preparedness and international collaboration in the years ahead.
Given these future challenges the Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference is likely to remain an important international forum in the years ahead and looks likely to continue receiving strong support and participation from all key stakeholders.