Kyra, Curt, and I just returned from a whirlwind tour covering both coasts of Mexico. During the last week of June, we drove to Ensenada to help with a Baja-wide oiled wildlife planning initiative. We had the opportunity to interact with government agencies and non-profit organizations from around Baja. As always in spill response there was an incredible alphabet soup of organizations:
SEMAR, SEMARNAT, PROFEPA, and GECI to name just a few (and there were lots more!). All these organizations and agencies were brought together to learn about oiled wildlife response and to investigate next steps for developing a wildlife response plan for the Baja coast. Then just last week we landed in Tampico, on the East coast of Mexico. There we delivered a training and took part in Mexico’s first full deployment drill to have a wildlife component. Tampico had some of the same agencies, but also its own group of acronyms including several universities in the area who sent students to participate in the training and drill.
OWCN has been helping with spill response training and planning in Mexico for a few years now. Long-time readers of this blog may remember Kyra’s post about meeting Graciela Guerra, a professor from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC) who had taken on the task of developing oiled wildlife response in Mexico. She had approached Kyra at a meeting and asked if we could help develop something akin to OWCN in Mexico. Graciela has since retired from UABC, but she is still helping to develop oiled wildlife response in the area and was at the Baja training.
On both coasts, we were hosted by the Mexican Navy (SEMAR). While Ensenada and Tampico are very different places and our work in each location had different goals, the navy was a great host on both sides of the country. We had nice housing, good food, and worked with great people everywhere we went.
Ensenada Planning Workshop
The Ensenada workshop had a very different feel than our usual fare. We decided to concentrate primarily on planning rather than focusing on the hands-on aspects of wildlife response. We gave lectures on different components of the response and on what’s required to plan for a successful response.
We also had breakout sessions, splitting people into 3 smaller groups: Species Experts, Resources/Equipment, and Logistics/Safety. People were placed in these groups based on their knowledge and experience. The groups then discussed the next steps to take in planning for a spill. The workshop was a great success with the navy setting goals for plan development, engaging the local NGO’s, and making plans to involve wildlife responders in future drills. As always, we had so much more we wanted to do, but accomplished a lot in the 2 days we were there. We are still talking with participants from both North and South Baja about how we can help them prepare.
Tampico Response Training and Drill
Tampico is a very different place, with very different needs. The Mexican coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico was recently opened to outside oil companies for exploration.
This has brought in a lot of interest not just in drilling development, but in planning and safety. We started our time in Tampico with a training for over 70 people, many of them students. It was an incredibly engaging group full of great ideas and great questions. We stuck to more of the hands-on part of spill response for this group, though we had the opportunity to talk a bit about planning and get their thoughts on wildlife response in Mexico. The next couple days concentrated on the drill. Following some lectures on various topics from oil exploration to sea turtle rehabilitation, we started preparing for the drill. Kyra, Curt and I were there to serve as advisors to the wildlife team, which was made up heavily by the students we trained just the day before.
The students were incredibly excited about the drill, and very creative in their setup. They used chairs to simulate everything from transport vehicles to bird cages. Several even stayed in Tyvek for almost the whole drill (which, mind you, took place in the middle of the day in Mexico during summer. That’s determination!). The students even roll-played stalking and capturing the wildlife: cardboard, neoprene, and inflatable plastic effigies that we placed out for them to find. It was great to see them use and discuss the concepts we had taught them only a couple days before. As with Ensenada, there is still more work to be done. However, we expect to be back to both places and are still working with the government, local organizations, and corporations to help improve oiled wildlife response throughout Mexico.