“To be prepared is half the victory”, according to Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish novelist. Along those same lines, Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend 6 hours sharpening my axe”. In our line of work, these quotes ring very true, as we are well aware that the more we prepare for a spill, the better off we (and oiled wildlife) will be when the time comes to respond.
As part of the four R’s that are the cornerstone of the OWCN’s efforts (Readiness, Response, Research, Reaching Out), we spend a lot of time on the preparedness, or Readiness, aspect. There are many activities that we participate in that encompass Readiness, including drills, such as the BNSF drill described by Nancy in last week’s blog, our first inland full-deployment drill in Quincy, CA last March, the maintenance of equipment already in hand, and the purchase of new equipment that would be used in response.
Even though we spend a lot of our time preparing ourselves and our California Network for the next spill, our Readiness sometimes joins with our Reaching Out mandate to extend outside the boundaries of California when approved by CDFW-OSPR. Over the past few years we have assisted our neighbors to the south in preparing for recovery and care of oiled wildlife affected by spills in Baja California. This included a training in Ensenada, Mexico of a group of 25 individuals from a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Currently, we are assisting this group in the development of a written plan. Even though we have been assisting folks in Mexico for several years, our involvement so far has mostly been limited to the Pacific region.
This changed a couple weeks ago, when Greg, Curt, and I traveled to Tampico, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Mexico, to train 90 people in the rescue and supportive care of oiled wildlife. We were invited to do this training by the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de la Marina), which is the group that is in charge of leading oil spill response in Mexico. The trainings were attended by individuals from several different groups, including the Navy, SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), students from several local universities, and others. This area along the coast of Mexico is biologically very rich, as it includes several important nesting sites for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, 29 species of marine mammals, and over 1500 species of birds (14 of which are globally threatened). It is also an important feeding ground for whale sharks, bluefin tuna, and several species of pelagic seabirds.
Personally, I was impressed with the students’ eagerness to learn; they certainly displayed this enthusiasm with their excellent questions and the lively discussions throughout the day. We ended the training with a tabletop drill, the goal of which was to give the group a feel for some of the initial actions to protect wildlife after oil has been spilled. Conversations revolved around the wildlife branch structure, who might fill some of these roles, where the recovery staging areas would be, as well as the potential buildings that might be used to hold and do initial wildlife supportive care. The training concluded with a collective commitment to continue along the path of preparedness for a future spill in this region.
Whenever I travel outside of California, and especially outside of the U.S., I am always struck by what a great set-up for oil spill response we have in California – something that we often take for granted. Mexico has a long way to go to be fully prepared for a spill, but I feel confident that they now have a greater knowledge of some of the aspects they will need to work on to be better prepared.
I feel so proud to be working for an organization (OWCN) within a state agency (CDFW-OSPR) that is so willing to share its knowledge and expertise outside of the confines of our state. With the risk of oil spills potentially increasing in the Gulf of Mexico region, it will become increasingly more important for Mexico to prepare for spills that affect their wildlife, but they have taken a great first step along this path.