Expanding our horizons to marine wildlife emergencies

Experts discuss turtle emergency response

In November, Sea Alarm ran a successful workshop in Barcelona on marine emergencies involving sea turtles.
The workshop was organised as part of the “European marine wildlife preparedness assessment program”, a project funded through Aramco Overseas Company’s citizenship programme.

Oil spills and wildlife do not mix well, which is why Sea Alarm’s focus over the years has been on preparing for oiled wildlife emergencies. This focus is now being expanded to cover other situations which could lead to large numbers of marine wildlife arriving on coastlines in a debilitated or dying state.

Such ‘marine emergencies’ could result from algal blooms, seismic disturbance, ‘cold stun’, disease outbreaks, or other phenomena that lead to a mass stranding. Regardless of the cause, all of these events can create a state of emergency for local authorities. The project is, therefore, designed to identify what the main emergency threats to wildlife are, what the current capacity is, what expertise networks are available are to deal with these threats – and how can countries and individual organisations be prepared for all types of marine emergency.

This was the first of a series of three expert workshops, each of which will look at different species groups. The event was attended by a small group of Mediterranean turtle specialists (rehabilitators, biologists and veterinarians). Participants were ‘thrown into the deep end’ of dealing with large scale turtle emergencies through a combination of group discussions and tabletop exercises.  Assisting Sea Alarm with the technical organisation of the workshop were oiled wildlife emergency response experts Ian Robinson (formerly IFAW and RSPCA) and Mike Ziccardi (University of California, Davis).

The international expertise and networks already built up for oiled wildlife response provide a model to work from for non-oil spill scenarios, however the participants had to address the challenges of setting up a response in situations where there is no clear ‘polluter’ and the cause is unclear – and therefore there may be no formal incident management system. The group also defined a number of future collaboration activities that would strengthen the collective turtle response capability in the Mediterranean, particularly for situations where facilities may be overwhelmed by a large number of casualties.

Results from the three expert workshops will be used at the end of the project to define recommendations on how countries can begin to embed preparedness for all types of marine emergency into their response infrastructure. This will lead to better protection for populations of marine species in European waters. Further details about the project will be published in future issues of this newsletter.

The support of Saudi Aramco is gratefully acknowledged and thanks are also due to Mariluz Parga (SUBMON) for the local organisation of the event.

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