HELCOM maintains its position as the most advanced Regional Agreement in Europe when it comes to oiled wildlife preparedness and response policy. This year, Expert Working Group Meetings have continued, an online seminar on cross border cooperation in wildlife incidents was held and a number of important proposals have been discussed and adopted by HELCOM Response.
Sea Alarm’s Hugo Nijkamp chaired two online meetings of the HELCOM Expert Working Group on Oiled Wildlife Response (EWG-OWR) in May and September. The EWG is made up of representatives of Baltic wildlife agencies who are responsible for national oiled wildlife response planning and was created by HELCOM Response in order to assist the Convention with the implementation of 2010 HELCOM Recommendation 31E/6.
Both meetings provided an opportunity for Baltic states to present updates on their national wildlife response planning efforts and other developments taking place in their country. HELCOM wildlife preparedness arrangements are now reported through a set of standard documents, including the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT), authority responsibilities, authority-NGO cooperation and stockpiles of wildlife response equipment which are used as monitoring tools by the EWG-OWR to describe and demonstrate current arrangements.
Sea Alarm, contributing to the Convention in its role of Observer, compiles the results of these monitoring documents and incorporates them into a formal report on the work of the EWG-OWR to HELCOM Response. The 2020 report was adopted by the 28th online meeting of HELCOM Response in November, which Saskia Sessions-Puplett and Hugo Nijkamp attended.
Another important milestone was reached at this meeting, as three proposals for the new Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) were approved by HELCOM Response and are now under consideration at higher levels in HELCOM, pending final approval by the Ministerial Meeting in October 2021:
- Integrated management of marine pollution incidents, highlighting the need for better coordination between at-sea and onshore/wildlife response (jointly developed by Sea Alarm and Sweden)
- Strengthening mutual assistance for oiled wildlife response, based on the EUROWA network concept (jointly developed by Sea Alarm and WWF Finland)
- Monitoring and pollution risk assessment regarding species and habitats in the Baltic Region (jointly developed by Sea Alarm, WWF Finland and the Finnish government).
The BSAP sets the political targets for the Convention in the next decade, so if these proposals are adopted, they will provide further weight behind the drive for Baltic countries to develop robust and demonstrable integrated response arrangements, including wildlife response. This includes the proper integration of mutual assistance mechanisms such as EUROWA, which will be explored further during the EUROWA-2 project as there are a number of activities planned where authorities will be invited to participate in 2021-22.
HELCOM Response 28 also approved a new draft Chapter 7 of the HELCOM Response Manual, which will be considered for final approval at the Helsinki Commission meeting in March 2021. Chapter 7, drafted by Sea Alarm and approved by EWG-OWR, is dedicated to wildlife response, and describes the principles and procedures that governmental agencies should apply when requesting and integrating a team of experts, such as EUROWA, from abroad.
Lastly, Sea Alarm teamed up with Germany to organise an EWG-OWR online seminar in September 2020 concentrating on the cross-border aspects of an oiled wildlife response. The geographic layout of the Baltic Sea means that the 9 Contracting Parties have a lot of potential to be involved in a cross-border wildlife scenario.
The seminar focused on the potential for co-operation and information exchange among Contracting Parties on both sides of shared borders, looking at what benefits are gained from having pre-spill arrangements between leading authorities in place and knowing what approach would be taken on the other side of the border. A tabletop exercise was held looking at a German-Danish wildlife scenario, with both countries providing interesting insights into how they would operate nationally and in conjunction with their neighbour – which revealed a number of areas where further operational cooperation could be useful.