Oh, WRMD!

With most of you being associated with the wildlife rehabilitation community, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database (WRMD) is probably very familiar.  Its foundation came from Devin Dombrowski and Rachel Avilla while working at Lindsay Wildlife Museum.  During this time, there was no standard database for wildlife rehabilitation.  There were a few that existed but none that met the community’s needs as a whole, prompting some to build their own simple database as something that could get them by, but with no interoperability to other organizations.

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Devin and Rachel

“…it became clear to me, through my rehabilitation work and discussions with other wildlife rehabilitators, that there was a need for a proper database that any wildlife rehabilitator could use.” (Devin Dombrowski)

In 2013 the program went public, providing wildlife rehabilitators a database designed to meet their specific needs.  Since then it has continued to grow, currently being used in 48 states in the US and 19 countries around the world.  I (Duane) was thrilled to find it being used at Belize Bird Rescue (BBR) in Belize when I spent time there!

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Coati (BBR)

Some people (myself included), initially had difficulty moving away from paper-based records, but the advantages were so substantial that I knew it had to be done sooner rather than later.  It not only allowed us to easily input, update and query patient data, but the fact that it automated those end-of-year reports to US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) was reward enough!  Additionally important is that it allowed rehabilitation facilities to permit CDFW to access patient data, permitting identification of disease trends in real-time,  and thus allowing for more timely action to address such trends.

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Western Toad

For several years, Devin and Rachel have been working with OWCN to modify WRMD for use with oil spills, and this year, the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database (OWRMD) made its big debut. So far, OWRMD has been used for two single-animal spills, and the recent Cuyama River Incident.  The very first spill patient input was a Bell’s Sparrow.  Cuyama was the first “big” test of the system, with patients including a Belted Kingfisher, Western Pond Turtles, Mallard ducks, Baja California Tree Frogs, California Red-legged Frogs and a Western Toad.  This was a relatively small inland spill but 20 patients were a great christening for our new database program.

The basic use of the program is very similar to WRMD, with additional features that allow us to track our patients’ specific oil-treatment care during a spill event.  It will provide us a detailed record of patients all the way from Recovery (communicating with the Wildlife Recovery App), through Field Stabilization, Transport, Processing, Pre-wash, Wash, Post-wash, Conditioning and Release.  In the upcoming months you’ll be hearing and learning more about its use as it becomes an integral part of our patient data collection moving forward.

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For each spill we will maintain an enormous amount of data such as initial exam information, morphometrics, types of treatments, final dispositions, release information and more.  Similar to how WRMD stores valuable information that can be used to help more than just animals at a single facility, the data we can collect electronically through OWRMD will greatly enhance our ability to evaluate our protocols and continue to improve care for oil-affected animals.

The conversion is quite an involved undertaking and like all new programs will take some time to get accustomed to; however, just like the conversion from paper records to WRMD, the advantages are just too substantial to resist!

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Lorraine and Duane

Refugio Beach Oil Spill Recap: 5 Year Status Update

A little over 5 years ago on May 19th, 2015, an underground pipeline running parallel to Highway 101 ruptured near Refugio State Beach (just north of Santa Barbara). As a result, 123,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled, 50,000 of which ran down a ravine under the freeway and entered the ocean.

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The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was activated and our responders sprung into action to rescue oiled wildlife in need of assistance.  As you can see in the summary table below, this was a significant wildlife response, especially considering the high number of marine mammal patients. Over 90 responders joined the effort from 21 different OWCN Member Organizations, logging over 1600+ hours!

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To summarize the large response operation, lessons learned and heroic efforts of many, the OWCN created a Refugio Incident Report, which you can view here. This document summarizes our responder hotwash hosted at UC Davis after the incident in 2015. In reviewing such documents years later, it is always reassuring to see that many of the challenges listed have been addressed operationally. This ensures that we learn and improve from every response, maintaining our ability to provide the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.

And while the focus of OWCN is to provide top notch oiled wildlife response operations from capture to release, there is another aspect of our efforts that does not come to fruition immediately.  The wildlife data we collect, including the summary of both live and dead oiled wildlife, all factor into the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, led by California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW OSPR). Want to learn more about the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process?  Click here.

We are excited to share that just two weeks ago, the draft restoration and assessment plan for the Refugio Oil Spill was presented to the public. You can view the May 13th presentations and FAQs on the CDFW OSPR website here:

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Thank you to all our OWCN responders, CDFW OSPR and everyone involved in responding to this incident.  While we will never forget, we were able to grow from this response and apply lessons learned toward our new and improved operations of present day.

The OWCN Management Team

 

 

Cuyama River Incident: Notes from the Field

“Hey, wait…listen”. I whispered. “Did you hear that?” Wendy and Danene were on the opposite bank, directly across from me. Dressed in Tyvek, a safety vest, lifejacket, a raincoat and a hard hat on, an N-95 mask and safety glasses covering their face, a spotlight and net in hand, the two of them looked like something out of a cartoon.

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Our Field Team: Wendy, Danene, Jennie

They stopped walking and listened. The rain was still coming down, but the birds were just beginning to chatter, and the first rays of sunlight could be seen on the horizon. And then there it was again, that throaty vocalization (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4xTYkG8fM0). “What in the world is that?” I asked. “Is that a red-legged frog?” We knew there was a possibility that this threatened species could be in the area and had listened to their calls online, but none of us had ever heard them in the wild before. I turned on my spotlight and scanned the bank near where they were standing. “I don’t see any eyeshine, but it sounds like it’s coming from behind you guys, up near the trees”. I crossed the river and joined Wendy and Danene on the other side. The three of us started heading back toward the newly created dam that had been erected to contain the oil, but also acted as a nice path across the river where we could easily get back to the truck.

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A Western Toad

We each took a different path through the trees in hopes of catching sight of this odd sounding species. Just before reaching the dam, I shined my flashlight into a little cave in the rock face we were passing. “Guys!” I shouted in excitement “I found something!”. I placed my net over the entrance, shined my light into the cave to make sure there were no other occupants, and then with Wendy’s help, slowly coaxed the Western Toad out of the cave and into the net. Realizing we needed to get going if we were going to make the morning safety tailgate briefing, we placed our new friend in a container we had brought, entered the data into the Wildlife Recovery App, and boogied back to the truck.

 

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Searching for Wildlife

This spill response was very different than any others I have been involved with. California was (and still is) under quarantine due to COVID-19, so this spill response was limited as far as staffing numbers to make sure people were kept as safe as possible. In addition, everyone was required to wear an N-95 mask at all times. No exceptions. There were numerous port-a-potties and hand-washing stations set up at each staging site, including several pink “women only” ones. There were people stationed at the river access points that would wipe down your vehicle door handles for you. Lunch was individually bagged and delivered to reduce the potential for germ spread. A six-foot separation was required when working in the field, unless it was absolutely necessary to be in closer contact. All of this made the response slightly more difficult, but the hardest part was with everyone wearing a mask it was a lot harder to hear what they were saying! Despite all the challenges that we were facing during our first COVID-19 spill response, keeping people safe was always our top priority.

Because we suspected we had red-legged frogs in this specific area, challenges or no challenges, the search was on! With the energy level spiked, onto the riverbank we went, determined to capture any affected wildlife. After much searching, I grabbed onto some old wood debris that was pushed up against the bank.  As I did, I heard a plop and saw a frog jump into the water. I scooped it up with my net and, with Wendy’s help, we examined it to see how oiled it was. Based on how much oil was in the water where we captured it, we expected it to be very visibly oiled. However, while it didn’t appear visibly oiled, substantial product came off onto our gloves, so we carefully boxed it up and transported it back to our staging area.

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A CA Red-Legged Frog

Upon getting it back to our Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital (MASH), we did a more thorough examination. While its hind legs were more yellow than the tell-tale red that is common, it turned out to in fact be a red-legged frog (but probably a young one). We provided it food, water, and some rest, and the next day gave it a Dawn(r) bath, a new home to recover in, and lots of earthworms. It turns out they really like earthworms! We continued to house and feed our threatened patient until it was able to be released back into the wild.

Overall, this response was a great experience for all of us. There were so many nuances (and some significant challenges), but we further refined our response procedures during unique circumstances, continued to develop more inland-specific techniques, and found ways to improve our field data collection tools. In total, we collected 21 animals (9 Western Pond Turtles, 3 Mallards, 1 Belted kingfisher, 1 fish, 4 Baja California Tree Frogs, 1 Western Toad and 2 California Red-legged Frogs) and successfully released almost 90% of the live ones collected. It just goes to show that pre-planning, adaptability, resilience in the face of uncertainty, and having and working with a great team leads to great success!!

-Jennie

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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A 10-Year Personal Reflection

Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning on 21 April 2010 / AP

As OWCN responders, I am sure everyone is aware by now that today, 20 April, marks the 10-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the start of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) that went uncontrolled for more than 80 days. There are a number of excellent pieces on the history and sheer scale of the operation (several of which I will link below), but I wanted to give a personal story to try and give a bit more color to at least my little corner of the incident.

I was one of the many who watched in horror at the early phase of the accident – the rig up in flames, the workers who lost their lives – and then watched as the released oil rose to the surface and made its way toward the Louisiana coastline. As one of the writers of the 2007 Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), I was quickly brought into the loop on marine mammal and sea turtle issues – in an environment where 30 different species of mammals and 4 of 5 species of turtles were at significant risk. I also reached out directly to BP and International Bird Rescue, as key partners for us in California, and offered the assistance of the OWCN if needed. Rhonda Murgatroyd, acting Wildlife Branch Director for the BP operations and Dr. Teri Rowles, program coordinator for NMFS’ stranding program, both asked me to fly to Louisiana on 27 April to lend assistance for the mammal and turtle effort (as Tri-State Bird Rescue had been mobilized to lead the bird effort). Thus started a 5-month, 9-round-trip, 1300-work-hour operational response for me, but little did I know it would also end up occupying much of the following 10 years in broader preparedness activities!

Mike Ziccardi at DWH

Mike Ziccardi at the DWH Incident Command Post

After arriving at the Houma, LA incident command post (or ICP), one of the first things I was asked to focus on was working with NMFS staff to identify existing personnel and facilities in the region, make recommendations to what might be needed if the spill required a large-scale rehabilitation effort (recall that the oil stayed off shore for more than two weeks), and to implement the existing protocols to address the effort. Each of those tasks ended up being enormous undertakings. First, no one could predict how large the spill could end up being, so the entire GoM was considered at risk (later that was expanded to Cuba and the Atlantic seaboard, but that’s another story…) and plans had to be developed from Texas to Florida. Next, while excellent facilities and personnel exist in key areas around the Gulf, facilities had not been developed specifically with oil containment in mind. Third, amazing responders and rehabilitators operated from these facilities, but none had the required 24-hour OSHA training necessary to enter a “hot zone” before the event, and volunteers had been expressly forbidden to work in the effort. Last, but certainly not least, the protocols that Dr. Shawn Johnson and I had worked hard on in the mid-2000’s had been based on the current state of knowledge for oiled wildlife care – namely impacts and protocols related to pinnipeds and sea otters, with little detailing cetaceans (and none involving sea turtles). So just a few challenges…

Exam on juvenile sea turtle

As the spill evolved, the Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle (MM/ST) Unit tried to stay one (or more) steps ahead of the “curveballs” that were thrown at us daily. Amazing collaborators and scientists from NOAA (such as Teri Rowles, Sarah Wilkin, Trevor Spradlin, and many others on the mammal side; Barbara Schroeder, Sara McNulty, Alexis Gutierrez, and many more on the turtle side; and Lavonne Hull and a tremendous support team from UCD) took turns rotating into the ICP to work with me to support the management effort, while the key stranding coordinators and scientific staff solved the problems in real time in the field. When very few oiled turtles arrived on the beach in the first two weeks, plans were quickly made to travel more than 100 miles offshore to start combing the oiled sargassum for juvenile animals at risk (complete with aerial assistance to allow for efficient searches). When dead bottlenose dolphins began stranding in large numbers in remote locations, large-scale recovery efforts were mounted to be able to bring the carcasses back so that full post-mortem examinations could be undertaken. When it became clear the scope and breadth of the impacted region, key facilities from the Texas-Louisiana border through to the panhandle of Florida were revamped to accommodate oiled dolphins and turtles (and later expanded appreciably once animals arrived). Additionally, stand-by facilities for oiled cetaceans and turtles were identified in areas outside of that geographical limit, additional sites were found to accommodate oiled manatees should they be captured, and secondary facilities were found that could take de-oiled animals if needed to free up space at the primary sites. When large-scale controlled burns were initiated, an outcry from the general public regarding the potential of animals to be caught in the “burn box” ended up in a rapid, comprehensive, and collaborative approach to survey each and every potential burn site before igniting it. These, and the daily sourcing of caffeine (the subject of which became one of my favorite blog posts during this response) were just a few of the daily challenges that we met and conquered during the response.

Oiled Dolphin During DWH / NOAA

Oiled dolphin collected during DWH / NOAA

One of the most memorable things for me personally, aside from trying hard to do what we could for all of the animals at risk, was the public thirst for information on the spill. Because of the sheer scale of the event (with more than 47,000 people working on it at its largest effort), getting key information into the public sphere on the wildlife effort was difficult. With operations spread between four different Sectors (each of which had an ICP that reported to a Unified Area Command), enumerating the impacts to animals accurately was critical – especially in the face of images of heavily-oiled pelicans in the daily press. There were even reports of “black van” and “black boat” operations that prowled at night to collect oiled marine mammals and dispose of them to hide evidence! While we were delivering information to the Unified Command daily related to mammals and turtles, early in the response those data were held close – which ended up translating into little information being released on the overall wildlife effort. To try and do a small part to alleviate this dearth of info, I turned to the OWCN Blog (yes, this blog site) to try and get at least a bit of information out there on the MM/ST planning and response efforts; no numbers, mind you, but some information pertaining to what was being done to benefit those animals at risk. The LAST thing I wanted to do each night was to head back to the La Quinta Inn after a 14-hr shift and wax philosophic, but I felt it my responsibility to try and get SOME info into the public arena to answer the questions of what was being done, and by whom. Aside from some particular literary embellishments (such as comparing the spill at one point to the Sword of Damocles), the blog landed well – and in fact led to additional media interest that then led to the ability to get good messaging out on the wildlife effort. Which leads me to the key point of this section: sharing correct information on excellent work is a critical part of emergency response. While I abhor being in the spotlight, either you control your message, or someone else will control it for you.

NOAA National Guidelines

NOAA National Guidelines

Ultimately, the well was killed after 87 days of uncontrolled release (and several unsuccessful attempts of stemming the flow). However, the work was far from over at that point. Some absolutely amazing work was started or continued: Lori Schwacke’s work investigating the chronic effects of oil exposure on coastal bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA and Brian Stacy’s continued efforts to fully document the effects in sea turtles and dolphins collected dead during the response to name just two. The response also resulted in an increased effort at an international level by the oil industry to better prepare for, and mitigate the effects of, oil spills, leading to the formation of the IPIECA – International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) Joint Industry Project. The IPIECA-IOGP JIP have focused on 24 key areas of recognized preparedness need for industry – one of which is oiled wildlife preparedness (and has led to the funding and support for the Global Oiled Wildlife Response Service, or GOWRS, Project, of which the OWCN is a proud member). Closer to home, the conclusion of the Deepwater Horizon incident has led to an increased effort by NOAA to better prepare for oil spill responses that may impact either marine mammals or sea turtles. The OWCN (primarily myself and Dr. Greg Frankfurter, with oversight Dr. Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) have helped formulate revised National Guidelines for marine mammal response, inclusive of “lessons-learned” from cetaceans and response actions during this incident. We have also focused on more regional-specific details through Regional Plans and Operational Annexes in each of the NMFS stranding response regions to identify key risk areas/species and available resources. Last, we have been conducting trainings (both operational and OSHA-mandated activities) in most of the regions to ensure the lack of trained and knowledgeable personnel will not hamper responses moving forward. So some tangible “silver linings” have definitely emerged from this disaster.

Washing an adult turtle during DWH

In looking back at this event, it makes me realize that all long-time oil spill responders tell stories of “the big one” – whether that is Exxon Valdez 30 years ago, Treasure 20 years ago, or even Deepwater Horizon 10 years ago. Each and every incident have pearls of knowledge buried within, and it is the responsibility of dedicated responders to unearth them to make things better for the animals (and people) who are involved in the future. While I have been personally disappointed in the lack of legislative motion following this event (as compared to that following the Exxon Valdez incident 30 years ago), I am pleased that we as a community dedicated to the welfare of wildlife have done so much in these 10 years to improve our processes to truly embrace the “best achievable capture and care” mandate that is the OWCN mission.

Mike Ziccardi in the One Day out of the ICP!

Mike Ziccardi in his one day out of the ICP!

And, as our previous Volunteer Coordinator Kaiti used to say, you are at 1688 words, so enough already! And if you read to this point, you CLEARLY are either really bored or appreciate my particular bent as to writing, so please feel free to relive 2010 with me in the archives of my blogs linked below.

Take care, and please stay safe in these uncertain times.

-Mike

 

Additional links to Deepwater Horizon response stories:

OWCN Blog – My personnel reflections beginning from Day 1, and continuing…

NOAA Fisheries – Restoring the Gulf: 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

National Audubon Society – Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

IPIECA – Macondo 10 Years On (Macondo being another name for the Deepwater Horizon incident)

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – A Decade Later: Advances in Oil Spill Science Since Deepwater Horizon

 

 

 

 

Learning From the Past

Recently we had the opportunity to necropsy birds that were released from evidence from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. You may be thinking; “Wait! He can’t mean Deepwater Horizon! That spill was 9 years ago!”  You’d be right to think that. However, it’s true. A little comparative pathology policy for you:

With marine mammals, all animals that are found dead or that die during an oiled wildlife event are necropsied. Pathologists are brought on early in the spill, samples are collected, and assessments are made regarding cause of death, impacts from disease, and effects of oil.  This is to provide evidence and guide treatment of animals impacted by the spill.

In the past, oiled birds during declared spills were not necropsied without specific dispensation from the Unified Command (UC) to do so. Instead any carcass was considered dead from oil, and immediately became evidence. By legal standards, an oiled bird is considered a dead bird. Those of us that work in the field, and anyone who’s read the research (see the references below) know that isn’t necessarily the case. The upside of this policy is a reduction in the up-front costs and logistics of hiring staff and setting up necropsy areas. The downside impacts however are much greater; there is a lot we can learn from carcasses. This information can guide rehabilitation and help us to understand and reduce impacts on animals in the wild. How much and what depends a lot on the condition of the animals when we get them.

If we are able to examine animals after they first die, we can find out the most about them. Fresh tissues give us the best chance to look for signs of disease exposure and infection, understand the physiological impacts of oil, assess injuries, and see the impacts of oil. If tissues are stored for a long time or frozen, they become harder to evaluate. Subsequent changes in microscopic structure of tissues introduces artifacts and reduces our ability to determine what changes are associated with disease or injury versus storage and post-mortem breakdown. Over time freezing and drying will cause the breakdown of bacteria, viruses, parasites, proteins, and other complex molecules. This decreases our ability to detect these important players in health and disease.

The goal of this recent work was to try and evaluate what we can learn from carcasses collected or stored under less than ideal conditions. The OWCN and OSPR along with a great group of dedicated volunteers necropsied over 100 animals including clapper rails, least terns, sanderling, Northern gannets, and other species impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. We collected tissues and samples to start to answer the question of what we can learn from these animals, and how we can use that information to help the animals we care for in the future.

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Thankfully, our access to carcasses and our ability to evaluate them may be changing. During a meeting last week between the OSPR and the OWCN, we started to look into the possibilities of getting earlier access to carcasses, and even to do necropsies immediately once animals die. Generally, the opinion was that we have valuable information for research and animal care. Changing this paradigm would be a boon for rehabilitators and researchers alike, leading to a better understanding of the impacts of oil, the health of wild birds, and our ability to care for these animals.

I also wanted to take a moment to thank a lot of people who helped with this effort. There are a lot of logistics, equipment, and time required for a project like this. Thank you to Mike Ziccardi and Laird Henkel for moving this project along and providing the resources to make it happen. Thanks to all the fantastic prosectors from SPCA for Monterey County, Monterey Bay Aquarium and the MWVCRC for their assistance. Melissa Miller, OSPR Pathologist was (as always) a tremendous resource and a wealth of information. And extra thanks to Corrine Gibble for sorting samples, helping organize data, and generally keeping the project moving and on track.

– Greg Frankfurter

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THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

 

At 9:18 am Monday morning the OWCN Senior Team received a heads-up text from Julie Yamamoto at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) alerting us to an accident involving a tanker truck earlier that morning at Dutch Flat on I-80. As you might imagine whenever we get a text that includes “this is not a drill” the adrenaline spikes. At 9:19 the whole OWCN Management team here in Davis looked down as our phones beeped for a Group Me message from Mike Ziccardi with the information from Julie and instructions to confirm we have received it. (How does he type so fast?)

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Immediately those of us who don’t know where Dutch Flat, CA is headed to Google Earth or Maps to get an idea of the location, topography and access roads and then check the temperature and weather at the site.

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Kyra led a quick informal discussion with the some of the Readiness and Field Operations staff who were working at the Boneyard and came up with a contingency plan to be ready to immediately deploy an initial Wildlife Recovery team directly from Davis if we were activated.

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At 10:21 CDFW Cal Spill Watch tweeted a report of the incident and a photo of the wreckage. As we waited for more news, we discussed potential species impacts, wildlife survey recovery methods in steep terrain, equipment needs, and potential care operations locations as we celebrated a staff birthday with lunch out.

Just about the time our burgers and fries arrived, so did an update tweet from Cal Spill Watch detailing efforts in the investigation and the plan to construct a barrier to contain the spill and keep it from the nearby creek when the rain (forecast for later in the day) arrived.

As the day went on and our lunch digested with no call to activate or even formally stand by, our blood pressure and heart rates settled back to normal. While the efforts to remove the truck and clean up the environment continued, we stood down and went back to the daily work of our team. Checking and maintaining equipment, replacing or improving, arranging trainings, and doing all the little things that make it possible to be ready to roll when the call or text lets us know that “this is not a drill”. Waiting for that next jolt of adrenaline those words bring to responders of all kinds including us here in Davis and all of the Member Organizations up and down California.

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-Curt

PS Later Monday night we learned that the driver of the truck died in the crash. Although it appears at this time that the damage to the environment was much less that it could have been, we recognize that for the family and friends of the driver it could not have ended worse. Our thoughts are with them today.

A holiday message from the ghost of oil spills past

 

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In many of our training materials we talk about looking for the silver lining in the aftermath of a spill. Silver linings can be many things. For one spill it might be new methods to care for oiled wildlife, while for another it might be new legislation to increase prevention and preparedness. The Deepwater Horizon was a huge spill with many negative impacts – some of which we are still learning about. At least one of the silver linings from that disaster has been the array of scientific studies that have been done to measure impacts to wildlife, the environment and to the people who responded.

The wildlife response spanned coastal and offshore areas from Louisiana to Florida and included many of us from OWCN Member Organizations as well as from OSPR and CDFW. Eight years after the event, studies continue to be published and two came out recently that I read with interest and I feel are important to share. I share them not to scare anyone, but simply to remind us that the chemical products we work around during spills are hazardous materials, and that oil spills are traumatic events that can impact our mental health as well.  The OWCN and OSPR both work very hard to ensure the safety of our responders, providing required training and annual refreshers, safety officers, safety protocols and provided PPE during response but ultimately it is up to each of us to keep ourselves informed and safe.

Both of these papers are part of the GULF Study (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) and a detailed discussion of both are well beyond the scope of an OWCN blog. I hope you will take a look at both of them and read them completely if you are so inclined.

One looks at mental health indicators associated with oil spill response workers including some working with wildlife and can be found here.

The second looks at lung function and association with oil spill response and clean-up work roles and found an impact in those handling oily plants/wildlife or dead animals. A summary can be found here.

As with anything else you read on the internet please do so critically. Neither of these focused on what we consider “professional” oiled wildlife responders like many of you are with the training and experience to identify the hazards and recognize how to mitigate them. I present them simply in an effort to help you stay on the cutting edge of health and safety in oiled wildlife response.

While this may not be a typical “Happy holidays” type of message, the health and safety of all of our responders (and their families) comes into true focus at this time of year. Please enjoy a safe holiday season!

Curt

10 Years Ago This Week…

Game-changing. Transformative. Heartbreaking. Many different words encapsulate the oiled wildlife response during, and readiness improvements subsequent to, the Cosco Busan incident in San Francisco Bay.

From the email wayback machine, 7 Nov 2007 @ 14:08hrs:
“Hi all – Just a quick note. The OWCN was activated this afternoon to respond to an allision of a container ship to the Bay Bridge this morning.  We have dispatched two teams of 2 people…to recon and assess wildlife impacts in the area.  At this point, it appears to be a fairly small spill in terms of volume, but has impacted the area around Pier 39, so public visibility and potential to impact birds and sea lions is moderate.  We are working directly with DFG-OSPR…and will have a better idea of the scope of response that will be needed later this afternoon. Let me know if you have questions or concerns. Thx! Mike”

Little did we know what the next several months of response, not to mention the ensuing decade of changes to readiness protocols, would come from this “fairly small spill”.

Today (8 Nov 2017) marks the 10-year anniversary of the day when oiled birds began to be collected by OWCN staff and volunteers and transported to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center. To honor and remember this event, I have written (and re-written) this blog post three different times – each with different emphases, information, and emotional attachments, as the event still triggers in me a variety of conflicting thoughts even to this day.

My first blog post was aimed to be a more general informational post, describing the event, what happened, the early confusion, why it happened, public reaction, and the resulting response efforts that occurred. However, over the past week there have been many insightful and factually accurate articles detailing this type of information, including a series of posts from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration as well as me providing much of that information in the OWCN Blog on the five-year anniversary, so adding to the mix didn’t seem as valuable as other approaches. Besides, there is always Wikipedia.

My second blog post draft was intended to focus on the OWCN’s wildlife response efforts – the 1,084 live birds (of 31 species), the 1,854 dead birds (of 45 different species ), and the 1 live/6 dead mammals that were collected – as well as the overall impact estimates of, among other effects, more than 6,800 birds killed. However, again, there has been wonderful information provided by CDFW-OSPR, NOAA, and the other Trustees this week detailing the estimated losses and how these resources are being restored. So no reason to reiterate points that have been well told already.

My third draft was designed to highlight all of the changes that occurred within CA oiled wildlife response efforts immediately after Cosco Busan, including the addition of numerous wonderful Member Organizations, the OWCN officially being given the mandate to lead recovery (and later hazing) efforts on behalf of the State, revisions to protocols and procedures, increasing and expanding our pool of trained responders, further improving facilities, and the like. But, again, much of was covered previously by me and others, and, aside from showcasing the fact that the OWCN prides itself on a vigorous self-improvement policy (through active internal and external after-action efforts) after each and every incident, to me it didn’t convey the depth of emotions nor the excellent work of all Network Members.

So that leads me to this, the fourth and final draft of my blog post. I simply want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, each and every person that was involved with the wildlife response efforts that so affected us all 10 years ago in the SF Bay region. Your dedication to improving the lives of injured wildlife during this disaster, especially an incident caused by human error, is awe-inspiring, and the OWCN cannot put into words how much we value your time and involvement. I also wanted to thank the OWCN Management Team staff at UCD (both current as well as past) for taking our responsibility as seriously as I do. Lastly, I wanted to recognize one specific individual, the late Jay Holcomb of International Bird Rescue, for his lifelong dedication to marine birds that was exemplified in this event.

To honor as many people as possible that were involved in this massive undertaking, I have added below a slideshow of all the responders that I was able to photograph during the “33 Days of Oil and Soap” that was so eloquently captured by the late artist (and Cosco volunteer) Doug Ross in his T-shirt design above.

Again, thank you!

-Mike

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Tristan da Cunha Oil Spill – Six Years After

Today marks the 6th anniversary of one of the world’s most remote wildlife rescue operation on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic.

Tucked away in the South Atlantic Ocean, mid-way between South Africa and South America, and a little east of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, lies the Tristan da Cunha archipelago and nearby Gough Island, home to 85% of the global Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi population.

The archipelago comprises three main islands: Inaccessible, Nightingale and Tristan da Cunha itself, with Tristan being the only island with a permanent settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Nestled at the base of the volcano on the island’s north-west coast, the village is home to about 270 inhabitants – the Tristanians. Gough Island, 380 km south-southeast of the Tristan group, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Inaccessible Island) and the only breeding site for this penguin south of the Subtropical front.

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Northern Rockhopper Penguin – photo by Antje Steinfurth

The penguin’s bobbing yellow hairdo and braying call is a familiar sight and sound for the Tristanians. Since people settled on Tristan in the early 19th century, the pinnamins, as the locals endearingly call their penguins, have played a key role in the island’s traditions. However, a 90% decline in the population since the 19th century, combined with the penguin’s small breeding range and vulnerability to land- and sea-based threats, meant that when the Northern Rockhopper was recognised as a full species in 2008, it was immediately listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Just three years later, the species’ precarious conservation status was driven home when the cargo ship MS Oliva ran aground off the north-western coast of Nightingale Island on 16 March 2011. Approximately 1500 tons of fuel and heavy crude oil escaped from the ship, encircling Nightingale and nearby Middle (locally called Alex) islands, breeding sites to almost half the world’s Northern Rockhopper population. Devastating reports of oiled wildlife and coastlines quickly made the international news. What followed, however, was one of the most remarkable wildlife rescue operations ever undertaken.

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MS Oliva aground off Nightingale Island on March 17, 2011 – photo by Kristine Hannon

Mission Pinnamin

Within hours of the spill, a small army of Tristanian volunteers orchestrated an ambitious rescue operation to try to save their penguins. Nightingale Island, where most of the penguins were caught in the oil, has no fresh water or facilities for cleaning penguins, posing a serious challenge to treating the oiled penguins on site. Penguins had to be transported to Tristan da Cunha, across 30 km of often tumultuous seas, for washing and rehabilitation. Hundreds of clean Rockhoppers were carefully corralled on Nightingale, Middle and Inaccessible to decrease the risk of them becoming exposed to the oil while oiled birds were captured and transferred by dinghy to the MV Edinburgh, a lobster fishing vessel operating in the archipelago that, overnight, was transformed into a penguin rescue hub. On 23 March the first fragile cargo of 473 penguins was brought to Tristan and taken to a makeshift rehabilitation centre set up by island’s Public Works Department.

One For All and All for One

Just about everyone on the island got involved in this operation. While the islanders’ heroic actions however were successful at averting the worst-case scenario of the spill, the price of living in splendid isolation is that help is a long way away. Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island are accessible only by ship, with the closest harbour being in Cape Town, South Africa. And when I say “closest”, it means 7 to 11 sailing days away. While the first salvage vessel left Cape Town one day after the MS Oliva ran aground with one seabird rehabilitation expert and enough stabilization supplies on board for the preliminary treatment of 500 penguins, the much-needed equipment to set up a full cleaning and rehabilitation centre only arrived 18 days after the catastrophe.

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Oiled Rockhopper Penguins on Nightingale Island – photo by Trevor Glass

Luckily, the oil spill happened at a time when most of the penguins had already moulted and left the colony for their winter-feeding areas, so the worst-case scenario was fortunately averted. Nonetheless, of the approximately 3700 oiled birds that were collected for rehabilitation, only 10% survived to be released. Probably many more penguins got trapped in the oil slick at sea and hence, these numbers underestimate the actual impact of the pollution.

Lessons Learnt?

Six years after the oil spill, the long-term effects of the oil spill on the population are still unknown. Given that the islands are the strongholds for the Northern Rockhopper this disaster, however raised serious concern as any changes in the islands’ population would have a substantial impact on the global status of this species.

This devastating event taught us once again that disasters can and do strike the most remote places and Tristan da Cunha, renowned as the most isolated human community on Earth, is remote by any standard. The 2011 MS Oliva oil spill highlighted the challenge of getting equipment and medication to the islands when it was critically needed.

The increasing number of ships passing close to the archipelago each year creates a growing risk of chronic oiling as well as further catastrophic spills. Having learnt the lesson, Estelle van der Merwe, a specialist in rehabilitating oiled wildlife, was appointed in 2014 by the Tristan da Cunha government to write an Oiled Wildlife Preparedness and Response Plan for the islands that will enable the Tristanians to be prepared if a disaster should strike once again.

Next Steps

Even though the oil spill had nothing to do with past population declines nor might it be responsible for the fluctuations that followed, what the catastrophe did reveal and highlight in a most striking manner was how little is known about this Endangered species, and that basic but vital information on the species’ general ecology has been almost totally lacking.

It goes without saying that regular surveys carried out by the Tristan Conservation Department have been providing an important and valuable tool to estimate annual population sizes, but are of little help identifying and understanding factors that are driving population trends and dynamics, which is crucial for any decision-making and design of an adequate conservation programme. Hence, there has been a growing need for baseline data and long-term monitoring datasets.

As part of an effort to fill the gap, in 2015, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) partnered up with the Tristan Conservation Department, the British Antarctic Survey, the Zoological Society of Scotland and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) to propose a comprehensive Rockhopper monitoring scheme to the UK Government’s “Darwin Plus” Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund. In March 2016, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the oil spill, funding was awarded and Project Pinnamin was born.

For more information see http://www.rzss.org.uk/conservation/our-projects/project-search/field-work/project-pinnamin-conserving-northern-rockhopper-penguins-on-tristan-da-cunha/

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWritten by guest blog by Antje Steinfurth, Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Cambridge, UK

 

The Miracle of OWRMD

Unlike my six-year-old, whose list to Santa is comprised mostly of toy weapons, my wishes for the New Year are less tangible. Less war, less poverty, less hunger, less deforestation, fewer emerging diseases, fewer extinctions, lower carbon emissions, no oil spills . . . . you get the idea. Given the current state of the world, it would probably take a miracle for any of those wishes to come true. But one miracle I am counting on is the promise of OWRMD!

Many, many years ago, Mike realized that an electronic medical record keeping system would be a huge boost to animal care during a spill response. After a LOT of work, angst, pain, blood, sweat, tears, and electronic device purchases, we are close to having a truly game-changing system in OWRMD, thanks to Devin Dombrowski and the Wild Neighbors Database Project (a non-profit that is already doing great work providing a free online medical records option for wildlife rehabilitators – follow the link to learn more or to donate).

OWRMD is a medical records database system that is purpose-built for the care of animals during an oil spill response, and it has been worth waiting for.  OWRMD is not exactly the same as the WRMD that is currently used in dozens of rehabilitation centers, but it is closely related. Many operations will be the same, and if you are comfortable with WRMD, getting comfortable with OWRMD will be a snap. It’s intuitive and has a lovely interface design, so even those who are not used to electronic medical records will become accustomed to it in no time.

It’s not quite finished yet, but for those of you who already use WRMD, you can understand how great a tool OWRMD will be. In the coming months, look out for opportunities to learn more about OWRMD, such as participating in drills or specific training sessions. At first, OWRMD will be for birds only, but we will be integrating other species into it as we move forward.

This holiday season, be safe, be healthy, be happy  . . . . and be thankful for whatever miracles come your way!

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Christine