It’s Been a Long and Winding Road: Celebrating a Major Milestone for Wildlife Response

There is a long history of informal coordination and collaboration among the world’s leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations. Although intentions were always positive and well received, barriers still existed – mostly centered around funding and the availability of time to focus on projects to benefit everyone. Following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon/Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico there was a historical shift, which I will try and briefly summarize for you, so here goes!

In July 2010 the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) formed the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG). This group initiated a major review of oil spill preparedness and response activities to identify key questions to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident. This group included representatives from major IOGP member companies, the Ipieca Oil Spill Working Group, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), and other key stakeholders. As a result of that process in May 2011 the Joint Industry Project (JIP) was initiated and developed 19 recommendations and a newly defined essential capabilities of tiered preparedness and response. Oiled wildlife response was identified as one of those 15 essential capabilities that constitute industry good practice. Formally recognizing wildlife as part of industry-wide good practice was a major milestone since historically there hasn’t been a formal international (or Tier 3) framework, coordination, dedicated resources, response objectives or capability requirements defined for wildlife response. More information on the development of the GIRG can be found by viewing the Macondo: 10 years on video.

Technical support document developed as part of the JIP, authored by the GOWRS Project partner organizations and published in 2017.  

Acknowledging there was a gap that needed to be addressed Sea Alarm Foundation (SAF) coordinated a meeting with the wildlife response community at the 2011 International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) to discuss the possibility of a more formal collaboration. In 2012 SAF and key industry representatives hosted a major stakeholder meeting that included representatives from leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations, industry partners, and governmental bodies and later developed a written proposal. In December of 2013 the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project was accepted and awarded short-term funding through Ipieca as JIP-20, which commenced in 2015. This project, coordinated by the Sea Alarm Foundation through 2019, includes the OWCN/UC Davis and nine additional professional oiled wildlife response organizations from around the globe – Aiuka (Brazil), Focus Wildlife International (U.S.A),International Bird Rescue (U.S.A), PRO BIRD (Germany), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (U.K), SANCCOB (South Africa), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (U.S.A), WILDBASE/Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Centre Ostend (Belgium).

Between 2015 and 2021 this two-phase project, which was initially funded by the JIP via Ipieca and later funded by OSRL, would meet regularly to create an international framework for Tier-3 oiled wildlife response. During this time deliverables included the development of the “Key principals for the protection, care and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife” technical support document, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), governance arrangements, readiness systems, guidance material for industry, equipment recommendations, and overall increased awareness regarding the importance of Oiled Wildlife Response. These accomplishments didn’t come without a small amount of confusion and some roadblocks, including the idea that GOWRS was a formalized deployable response service (versus what it was – a project envisioning how that could come about) as well as a lack of clarity around preparedness needed to operationalize an oiled wildlife response. Now that we’re up to speed let’s talk about what’s next for the GOWRS – drumroll please! 

Introducing the Global Oiled Wildlife Service, which will become part of OSRL’s Service Level Agreement (SLA).

This service, expected to launch later in 2022, is a guaranteed 4-person Assessment Team drawn from leading wildlife response experts who will be available 24/7/365 to rapidly deploy for a four-day boots-on-the-ground evaluation of the incident. Each member of the 4-person Assessment Team will have a designated role that functions to evaluate in-country capacity and feasibility of a response. 

This team will provide recommendations to the Incident Management Team (IMT)/Responsible Party (RP) on the need and appropriate scale of a wildlife response that are in alignment with the above-mentioned Good Practice standards. Additionally, annual funding will be available for the 10 previously mentioned organizations to develop and maintain internal readiness and deliver the remaining GOWRS project strategic goals. This funding will also allow remote inclusion into industry-led exercises and contribute to the advancement of Tier 1 (local) and Tier 2 (regional or national) capacity, therefore enhancing the ability to meet the needs of a Tier 3 incident. This is especially important in areas of the world where response capacity for wildlife is limited. A huge win for wildlife and a big Thank You to OSRL for supporting this effort. Here you can more about OSRL’s Wildlife and Emergency Preparedness & Response.

Having been part of this project since 2016, I’m excited to see how far we’ve come. Not only have we strengthened relationships, but we’ve raised awareness and built the foundation for a long-term journey that reinforces the importance of including wildlife in response planning. Oh – and we may have enjoyed a few beverages and went badger watching along the way (right, Mike!). 

Cheers to a new chapter for wildlife response and a big thanks to Dr. Mike Ziccardi and Paul Kelway at OSRL for helping to confirm I had my facts straight!


Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

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