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

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