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In an emergency response, the single most important determining factor for a successful outcome is cooperation. Key response specialists should not waste their time or energy on lengthy discussions or perform in mistrust of one another. By working on the same page, their efforts are bound to be successful, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Sea Alarm’s philosophy therefore is to connect people long before they may have to work together as part of a wildlife response. Instrumental in this approach is the organisation of conferences, round tables, workshops and training events. One of Sea Alarm’s capabilities as an independent facilitator is creating an open and cooperative atmosphere in which possible problems are identified and addressed before they may compromise a response.

National activities

National workshops and round tables have already been organised in many European countries. Normally Sea Alarm liaises with a national group or network to organise a one-day event in which a number of identified stakeholders attend. If successful, these meetings are often followed by another workshop a few months later in which a more complete group of identified stakeholders are invited, often including the authorities that are responsible for oil spill or oiled wildlife response.

The workshops examine the various challenges of a marine wildlife emergency and the different response approaches they require. Because workshops are informative in the first place and do not put pressure on any particular party, participants frequently discover that they have a lot of shared interests, including the desire to have a closer look into the possibility of developing a higher degree of preparedness.

Although Sea Alarm is prepared to facilitate the planning process (as it did in Belgium) or the more structural cooperation of organisations (as it did in the Netherlands and in Portugal), in some cases one or two meetings led by Sea Alarm is enough to kick off fruitful cooperation between organisations (like in Germany, Norway and Sweden). Sea Alarm closely monitors national processes and regularly reports on any developments through its newsletter.

Sea Alarm’s involvement in so many different countries has provided it with a lot of experience and valuable insight. This information has enabled Sea Alarm to provide better assistance to national stakeholders in their attempts to prepare for a marine wildlife emergency.

Regional activities

At a regional level, Sea Alarm aims to facilitate cooperation between countries to improve marine wildlife emergency preparedness and response. Its first objective is ensure that wildlife responders from different countries know each other and ideally train and conduct exercises together. To this end, Sea Alarm’s organises regional training events.

Integrating wildlife response into existing regional programmes

Ideally, wildlife response forms part of marine emergency planning of individual countries. In addition to its activities at national levels, Sea Alarm tries to encourage countries to consider planning for wildlife response at a regional level.

Countries bordering a so called “regional sea” have to deal with the same environmental characteristics of that sea and often share the populations of wildlife that are vulnerable to marine pollution. They are also near to each other and, in the case of Europe, have concluded Regional Agreements that facilitate mutual assistance to prevent, prepare for, and respond to marine pollution. These Regional Agreements are the practical elaboration of a global agreement, the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response and Cooperation (OPRC) to which most coastal countries are Contracting Parties.

European perspective

In Europe, different regional conventions arrange for the cooperation between countries that border Europe’s different regional seas:

Region Agreement Technical arrangement for marine pollution response Status of oiled wildlife response
Baltic Sea Helsinki Convention HELCOM RESPONSE Implemented
Nordic states Copenhagen Agreement
North Sea/ North East Atlantic OSPAR/Bonn Agreement OTSOPA Recognised; implementation is being explored
East Atlantic Lisbon Agreement (pending entry into force) No activity
Mediterranean Sea Barcelona Convention REMPEC Recognised; implementation is being explored
Black Sea Bucharest Convention No activity

Sea Alarm has an expanding programme of activity which aims to have wildlife response recognised as an integrated part of the overall pollution response planning and cooperation by Contracting States of these different Regional Agreements.

Sea Alarm contributes to the different meetings of the technical groups of some of these agreements:

Helsinki Convention

Under the Helsinki Convention, wildlife response has been recognised and Contracting Parties have agreed to integrate wildlife response into national oil spill response plans. Sea Alarm, together with WWF-Finland, has been instrumental in facilitating these discussions and in assisting Estonia (the lead country for these developments) in drafting a proposal for a HELCOM Response work programme in this field. Sea Alarm played an important role in drafting a formal HELCOM recommendation on oiled wildlife response, which is now in place and also chairs the HELCOM Wildlife Response Group (WILDLIFE).

Bonn Agreement

Sea Alarm has attended several annual OTSOPA meetings to report on its activities and international developments. The Contracting Parties have agreed that wildlife response is an important issue, and should be part of the reporting obligations.

Barcelona Convention

Under the Barcelona Convention, Sea Alarm holds a Memorandum of Understanding with REMPEC, which facilitates Sea Alarm’s advisory role as part of the Mediterranean Assistance Unit (MAU) to individual Contracting Parties and its involvement in future wildlife incidents.

Worldwide perspective

Regional sea cooperation exists worldwide. A good guide to forms of regional sea cooperation is provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which promotes and facilitates Regional Sea Programmes. Regional cooperation has been set up in many areas of the world, formally agreed by an umbrella agreement, under which so called “Protocols” have been realised for particular issues. Cooperation for marine incident response is often arranged for in a separate protocol.

Although Sea Alarm is a small organisation based in Europe, it is able to provide assistance in other parts of the world to explore possibilities of increasing response capacities at regional levels. As part of Sea Alarm’s cooperation with the oil industry, it is exploring ways to build a global response capacity with leading wildlife response organisations. Regional capacity building is an important target in that approach.

Scientific community

In order to understand the impact of an oil spill on wildlife, scientists must be involved in assessing populations and habitat before, during and after the spill. Sea Alarm supports and promotes research in these areas and taps into networks of population scientists who can provide important data when needed.

The involvement of scientists and scientific institutions in the immediate aftermath of a spill is crucially important to assess the impact of an incident on vulnerable marine species. Sea Alarm has encouraged and facilitated the involvement of scientists in past incidents. It has also been actively involved in setting up and conducting an international project to develop guidelines for wildlife impact assessment studies, which is now widely available (Handbook on Oil Impact Assessment).

Sea Alarm aims to build dedicated networks of marine population scientists and identify priority projects that facilitate the availability of knowledge and scientists in the aftermath of incidents.

In 2008, Sea Alarm was one of three partners in a European project (Reducing the Impact of Oil Spills on Wildlife – RIOS) to identify scientific priorities for Europe and the wider North Atlantic. The results of this project, including workshop proceedings and an Action Plan, are available on the EUROWA Website.

Sea Alarm actively promotes the RIOS Action Plan and has already adopted the plan with respect to the introduction of colour rings as a means of recording the post-release survival of rehabilitated birds. Another activity that will be carried out is the organisation of a training workshop on wildlife impact assessment.

Sea Alarm also works with networks of wildlife response experts who are encouraged to define, improve and apply best practices in the care of oil threatened and affected wildlife to constantly improve the long term survival of these animals.

Responder networks

Sea Alarm is connected to an international network of oiled wildlife responders including leading organisations with extensive oiled wildlife response experience. Sea Alarm aims to facilitate the cooperation between these organisations whenever needed in order to exchange experiences, identify standards of good practice, develop training models and training opportunities, and facilitate international responses, when necessary.

Sea Alarm’s European network includes wildlife responders, scientists, governmental agencies and maritime organisations that are based in European coastal countries. Sea Alarm formalized this network, originally called EMPOWER, to provide an infrastructure that supports preparedness and response activities at national, regional and international levels.  Today Sea Alarm is expanding on the EMPOWER concept by developing, in cooperation with key European oiled wildlife response groups, the EUROWA module.  Learn more about EUROWA.

Sea Alarm’s oil spill response network includes a wide range of professional organisations that operate internationally in the field of marine pollution emergency response and preparedness. Thanks to the good relationships that Sea Alarm has built with these organisations, it can easily make the necessary connections, when required in preparation of an oiled wildlife response, and also during and after a response.

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