Oil Spill in Bangladesh – Q & A with Mike Ziccardi

Please see below for a video and a partial transcript from a Q & A session with Mike Ziccardi in regards to December’s oil spill in Bangladesh!



A cargo ship rammed a tanker in Bangladesh’s Sela River in December of 2014, spilling 92,000 gallons of oil into the world’s largest mangrove forest. The Sundarbans, which is where the spill happened, is listed as three different wildlife sanctuaries, and is a world heritage site. OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi was called in to help with the assessment, spending about two weeks in the country during the spill’s aftermath.

We sat down with Mike a few weeks after he got back to talk about the experience.

When were you called in to the situation?

A week after the spill, I was contacted with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) because the Bangladeshi government was considering using chemical dispersants to get rid of the oil. Due to my involvement with NOAA in writing the national guidelines for oiled marine mammal response, I was put on stand by and then deployed as part of the UN Mission along with USAID and other American experts from NOAA.

What was your recommendation regarding chemical dispersants in this case?

Chemical dispersants can be useful, but they can also be dangerous in sensitive habitats because it does not completely get rid of the oil, and the chemicals can introduce more concerns. The possibility of the chemicals being absorbed by a lot of creatures and plants was a large concern because the spill was very close to shore.

When is using a dispersant a good idea?

They are less risky to use in open water areas. In California we have the pre-approval to use some dispersants if needed, but they need to be used off-shore. For example, if they wanted to use a dispersant in the San Francisco Bay, there would need to be an extensive discussion with great consideration of the potential negative impacts.

What were some of the chief concerns in regards to this spill?

The Bangladeshi government became very concerned about the environmental damage to the Sundarbans and for the wildlife living there, particularly because there are more than twenty globally endangered species of wildlife in the area. The royal Bengal tiger lives in the Sundarbans, and we believe there are less than 200 of them in the area. There are also two species of dolphin (Irrawaddy dolphin and the long-nosed Gangetic river dolphin) that reside there, both of which are threatened or endangered internationally.

What was the local response to the spill?

When an oil spill occurs, the first week is typically devoted to clean- up. With this spill, they had no spill response capabilities in the country. The Bangladeshi government did send some Navy ships out to use a contaminant boom (a temporary floating barrier used to contain an oil spill), but unfortunately the oil went right under the boom. A majority of the oil clean- up was done by local fisherman, with no protective gear, boots, gloves, or training on how to handle an oil spill.

How did the spill happen?

This passageway was a tanker vessel’s access to the sea. Unfortunately, the legal way to pass through this area was blocked off due to sediment build up, so shipping had to go through the Sela River. Commercial ships are not allowed in this part of the Sela River because there are three dolphin sanctuaries in the river and the spill actually occurred in one of them.

What was evaluated from the spill?

Four of the response subgroups were dedicated to mangrove, aquatic habitats, and the impacts on the people in the area. We were able to determine some of the acute impacts right away, however some of the recommendations we are making to the Bangladeshi government are long term, to make sure that we are looking at the overall picture. We want to continue accessing the environment and wildlife for at least the next 2-3 years for population changes.

What are the main concerns for the wildlife in the area?

The freshwater crocodile in the area are fairly endangered, and oil can affect the eggs that they lay. If the oil that is in the environment washes over the eggs, the population can be affected. There are also two populations of river otters, which are at a high risk of oil problems, so we need to monitor those. Of course the two populations of dolphins and the tigers all need to be monitored as well—to see if they are hunting and moving away from their habitats.

What are the next steps for the preservation of the Sundarbans?

Right now we have a report that was generated through the UN Mission which discusses the need for ongoing assessment of the Sundarbans, in addition to recommendations for response planning for future spills. I believe there will be a UN group going back to the Sundarbans and that the Wildlife Conservation Society will likely also be going back as they are the world’s leader in fresh water dolphin research and took part in the spill response. My hope is that they will be able to develop a plan for the dolphins in the area and for the people around the Sundarbans with local and international support.

— Interview and video by Desiree Aguiar and Justin Cox

Training In Azerbaijan

Hello all- This week I was fortunate enough to be asked to help our partners International Bird Rescue (IBR) on a IMG_1775training in Baku, Azerbaijan. Now if you are an American like me, your geographical knowledge is less than stellar, so here is a map of the region. The reason Azerbaijan is an important spot for oil spill training is that the Caspian Sea is a major production area for oil, with the resultant crude then being sent via pipeline through Georgia to the Black Sea, or then through Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Baku itself reflects this relatively new increase in production and prosperity. Old, USSR-era buildings blend in with modern high-rises with amazingly graceful design. Baku is also home to the first European games this summer, so sports complexes are being built throughout – each of which rival the complexity of those seen in Beijing for the summer olympics!IMG_1799 The training itself was two separate 2-day overview trainings given to industry representatives, governmental officials (from ministries and the state oil company), zoo staff, university faculty and students, and local ornithological members, among others. Curt Clumpner, Barbara Callahan and I walked everyone through information pertaining to all of the different areas of an oiled wildlife response (from field ops to release), but also spent time on planning, response management, and discussing the existing plans should a spill occur here in the region. The most engaging part of the class was when Curt broke the class into smaller groups, gave them the footprints of one of three areas where facilities would likely be developed were there a spill (in Alaska, Georgia, and Azerbaijan) and had themIMG_1817 develop a workable plan – thinking about animal flow, zoning, utilities, and all the important aspects needed for an effective response. He even made them think about a variety of species, including porcupines and terrestrial reptiles! For me, there were three particularly notable aspects of the training that really stood out. First was the excitement and interest that was evident in most of the younger NGO and zoo participants, and the intense desire by the governmental and industry participants to develop a working plan for effective oiled wildlife response. Compared to many classes, we were constantly behind schedule simply due to the number of great questions being raised on all of the material! Second, it was great to work with world experts on the Caspian seal, a globally endangered phocid smaller than our harbor seal but at great risk in the region due to its ecology. IMG_1805Through my work with NOAA and helping to steer the National guidelines for oiled marine mammal response, speak with these biologists and helping to work through potential response options was particularly gratifying. Last, working with Barbara and Curt really helped to highlight the strong, world-class partnership that exists between IBR and the OWCN. The training itself went almost seamlessly between the three of us as trainers, with each of us helping to answer questions and make comments as they arose, and it was clear to all in the questions and comments we received that both organizations were world leaders on oiled wildlife readiness and response. IMG_1835So, as I sit in the Baku lounge waiting for my VERY long flight back to the States, I find myself very happy for the opportunity to experience another culture this year (Bangladesh in Jan, Azerbaijan in Feb, ??? in Mar), but also for the great work that the oiled wildlife response community is doing worldwide to better prepare to respond should animals be in crisis during spills. It also makes me VERY grateful for the thousands of excellent responders and pre-established facilities we have in California. There is truly no place like our state as far as the readiness to deliver best achievable capture and care 24/7/365! – Mike

Bay Area Spills This Week

This past week has been busy for OWCN! Two spills occurred on the same day (Feb. 10), and the OWCN was activated for both.

Oily debris at the Shell refinery spill in Martinez on Feb. 11, 2015.  Photo credit: Michelle Bellizzi

Oily debris at the Shell refinery spill in Martinez on Feb. 11, 2015. Photo credit: Michelle Bellizzi

One spill happened in the late afternoon at the Shell refinery in Martinez, when a reported 2 barrels of oil and water mixture leaked into the Bay as a result of a test being conducted on a pipe. Two OWCN Wildlife Recovery teams were deployed and actively scouted the area by boat and along the shoreline, but no impacted wildlife was seen.

A second spill happened at the Alameda Marina, where it was reported that there was a strong odor of diesel in the evening of Feb. 10, although the source is still under investigation. One OWCN Wildlife Recovery team was deployed on Feb. 11, and immediately started combing the area to look for injured wildlife.

As if two spills weren’t enough, on Feb. 12 there was yet another spill reported, roughly in the same area as the Alameda spill, where today the Recovery team captured one oiled Pied-billed Grebe that was transferred to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center.

John Deakin, OWCN Wildlife Recovery  staff, searches for oiled birds in Alameda. Photo credit: Isabel Luevano.

John Deakin, OWCN Wildlife Recovery staff, searches for oiled birds in Alameda. Photo credit: Isabel Luevano.

These events, although small in nature, remind us of the constant threat of oil spills that could affect wildlife at any time.  We are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers and staff, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.


OWCN Activated for Two Spills

The OWCN was activated today for two spills in the bay area.  At this time NO oiled wildlife has been reported, and we are NOT requesting volunteers.

The first spill involved oil released from yesterday’s pipeline leak at the Shell Wharf in Martinez. The OWCN had recovery teams deployed to this area today, with no affected wildlife reported or found.  To read more about the ongoing efforts, please visit click here to visit Cal Spill Watch’s page on the Shell Wharf Incident.

The other spill occurred near the Alameda Marina. Again, OWCN deployed recovery teams to the area, and no affected wildlife was reported or found.

We will continue to update you as we learn more information.


The Oiled Wildlife Recovery Program at the OWCN

For many of us, seeing pictures of oiled and debilitated wildlife in the newspapers, on TV, and on the internet triggers some powerful emotions. I remember watching the Deepwater Horizon oil spill unfold in 2010, before I joined the OWCN. I wanted to help, but I felt powerless to make a difference. Now, as Field Operations Coordinator for the OWCN, I feel lucky that when there is an oil spill, I can actually do something to get affected animals the care they need.

Oiled Brown Pelican during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 2010.

Oiled Brown Pelican during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, 2010.

I have no doubt that this recent Mystery Goo event in the East Bay has stirred up similar feelings in many – but the good news is that it is easy to become involved and make a big difference when something like this occurs. Becoming a volunteer at a rehabilitation organization allows you to help out when needed, on a daily basis, and in larger events such as during this Mystery Goo event. The past few weeks, International Bird Rescue (one of our member organizations) has needed many volunteers in order to care for so many birds.

If you volunteer your time with one of our 34 member organizations (for a list of all our member organizations, please click here) you’ll also be eligible to take advantage of OWCN trainings and potentially help out during an oil spill. So whether you want to capture struggling wildlife out in the field, transport them to the care facility, help provide care for them at the facility, prepare food or put pens together, the first step is to identify an organization that you wish to volunteer with, and contact them for instructions on how to get started.

After that, there are different training requirements depending on how you would like to help out during an oil spill. For example, if you want to help out in the field capturing oiled wildlife, you need to have a minimum of 24-hr Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training. In addition, you will need to take several OWCN webinars as well as the Wildlife Recovery level 2 hands-on workshop.

Mike Ziccardi, director of the OWCN, and several students during a recent Wildlife Recovery Level 2 training in Arcata, CA.

Mike Ziccardi, director of the OWCN, and several students during a recent Wildlife Recovery Level 2 training in Arcata, CA.

The Wildlife Recovery program at the OWCN began in 2008 (after the Cosco Busan oil spill), when “capture” was added to our mandate of “best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife.” Since then the program has continued to expand, with active and ongoing recruitment and training of new personnel. Each year we work with the Industrial Hygienists from the Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response to provide 24-hr HAZWOPER trainings all across the state. Our advanced workshops include All-Terrain Vehicle certification, boat safety classes, and specialized capture techniques. As a result, we now have over 350 fully-trained people throughout CA, including over 100 in the Bay area alone. But don’t let that deter you from getting involved – with our mandate recently expanding to include all of California (not just the marine portion), we are looking forward to further expanding the Wildlife Recovery program as well.

So if you haven’t done so already, think about contacting one of the many rehabilitation organizations in your area to help out during non-spill times, and during spill times. Consider joining us in our mission to always provide the very “best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife.” We’d love to have you.


Mystery Event in the East Bay

The East Bay has been busy the last week or so with a “mystery goo” event.  Over 300 birds have been brought in and are being cared for by the team at International Bird Rescue.

"Melanitta perspicillata" by Alan D. Wilson - NaturesPicsOnline. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melanitta_perspicillata.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Melanitta_perspicillata.jpg

Surf scoters have been heavily affected in this event. Photo credit: “Melanitta perspicillata” by Alan D. Wilson – NaturesPicsOnline. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melanitta_perspicillata.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Melanitta_perspicillata.jpg

While petroleum has been ruled out, the fact that the substance has not been identified (and that it isn’t a petroleum product) has been the source of frustration for many of the public following this event.  Most see animals in distress and want to know why more is not being done by the state.  Both the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) are doing what we can within the scope of our work to help out.  In many ways this event mimics an oil spill event, and we can use this event as a training opportunity of sorts.  For example, I was lucky enough to spend several days last week (along with the rest of the OWCN staff) working with International Bird Rescue. I was able to spend time with their volunteer coordinator learning new things, and putting into practice many things that I have spent the last few years training for.  This was a great way for me to help out while gaining valuable experience coordinating volunteers. During my time there I also saw OSPR staff doing everything they could to help out, even transporting contaminated animals from the field to the center.

Areas in the the San Francisco Bay.  Screenshot courtesy of Google Maps.

Areas in the the San Francisco Bay. Screenshot courtesy of Google Maps.

Our limitations come from the fact that our program was established specifically to address oil spills in the state. The funds that support our program come from fees paid by oil companies when they transport oil into the state, and are marked for use in preparing for and responding to oil spills. With this mystery goo event, we have no known responsible party and the product is not oil, therefore it would not be right to spend money collected and set aside to address oil spills on a non-petroleum response. OSPR, which is part of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, is in a similar situation.

The silver lining on a horrible situation is blindingly visible during this event, in the form of generous support.  There has been an outpouring of support from not only OWCN and OSPR workers, but also from East Bay Regional Parks, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and wildlife rehabilitation organizations around the state, as well as the public.

Horned Grebes have also been affected during this event.  Photo Credit: user:Calibas - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horned_Grebe.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Horned_Grebe.jpg

Horned Grebes have also been affected during this event. Photo Credit: user:Calibas – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Horned_Grebe.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Horned_Grebe.jpg

In fact, the network that has been designed for oil spill response, is being utilized for this event, with many network rehabilitation organizations generously donating the time of their staff and volunteers, sending people to assist International Bird Rescue every day in the care and cleaning of these animals.  Dedicated individuals are stepping in to offer financial support to keep operations going. All of this effort and hard work really is a testament to how amazing the people of the Bay Area are, in their willingness to step up and help affected wildlife.

The real kudos here go to International Bird Rescue for the huge effort they have put into taking care of these contaminated seabirds, and we are proud to have them as partners in our network.  Please click here to visit International Bird Rescue’s website and get up to date information on this event.


OWCN in Bangladesh: Day 0

Hello all-

Been awhile since I have blogged. Not that I love the OWCN any less since the Macondo/Deepwater Horizon spill, but it seems as if things just keep getting busier and busier for us here in California.

Oil slick line the banks of the Shela River (AP Photo/ Khairul Alam)

Oil slick line the banks of the Shela River (AP Photo/ Khairul Alam)

Speaking of which, as a brief update, I was activated this past week with a colleague from NOAA Office of Response and Restoration and the US Coast Guard to assist in the UN-led effort to support the clean-up and assessment activities in Bangladesh after the oil spill that occurred there on December 9th.

If you have not read the latest, the Guardian recently wrote on the UN effort.

As there may be little internet access where I will be, I am not sure I will be able to give updates as I go. However, I look forward to giving out information on what I see and the work that we are doing as soon as I am able.

These events in other regions of the world truly make me thankful for the systems, facilities, and people that we have in place to help wildlife in California. So, for now, I hope that everyone in the OWCN has a wonderful holiday season ( I plan on trying to put some tinsel on a mangrove…stay tuned).

Thanks again for all that you do!

– Mike