I just returned from attending the 1st World Seabird Conference, which took place in Victoria, Canada last week. It was a week-long event, with about 800 participants from over 40 countries, and 5 concurrent sessions! I felt honored and humbled to be part of such an amazing event, and I returned to Davis feeling very inspired. The quality of the talks was overall excellent, and topics ranged widely and included themes such as climate change, spatial ecology, Marine Protected Areas, seabird restoration, interactions between seabirds and fisheries, evolution and conservation genetics, physiology, abundance at sea, technological and analytical innovations, stressors on seabirds, among many others. In addition to the talks, there were two poster sessions with almost 400 posters, and something called Legacy Workshops, which took place throughout the week. One of the main objectives of these workshops was to hold discussions on facilitating information exchange amongst seabird researchers and organizations. With so many seabird biologists studying such diverse aspects of seabirds globally, there is an increasing need to enhance communication and comparison of results. This is especially important in the face of current global threats such as climate change that may impact seabird colonies from the Bering Sea to the Antarctic.
Despite the diversity of great presentations, the number of talks that dealt with effects of oil spills on seabirds was minimal, although there were a few more posters than talks that discussed this. However, talking to people at the conference and describing the work of OWCN, I got the general sense that the effects of oil pollution on seabirds is of great concern, especially in this Deepwater Horizon era. I spoke with several seabird biologists that were extremely interested in finding out how to train local people and develop contingency plans to prepare for the increasing risk of oil spills. I was amazed to find out that most places around the globe have minimal or no preparations in place in the event of an oil spill. It is my hope that OWCN and the greater oiled wildlife care network can serve as an example and template for helping other states and countries develop a state of readiness to be able to respond when and if an oil spill happens.
The general consensus was for a second World Seabird Conference to take place in about 4-5 years from now. I hope that by that time there will be a greater awareness of the need for more widespread oil spill preparedness if we want to protect seabirds and other marine resources.