Deja Vous all over again? Non merci


It was with great relief when I read on Monday that the cargo ship Modern Express was back under tow and headed away from land and imminent danger. The 538-foot car carrier with 300 tonnes of fuel and listing at 45 degrees as it drifted ever closer to the southern coast of France last weekend after it’s crew had been evacuated.iu

I learned of the Modern Express’s plight last week shortly after I read about Spain’s Supreme Court sentencing of the captain of the oil tanker Prestige to two years in prison for “recklessness” that resulting in catastrophic environmental damage” and the new threat could not help but bring back memories of my experience capturing and caring for oiled birds in Spain and later France in the days and weeks and following the disaster.

In November 2002, I was on the staff of International Bird Rescue (then IBRRC) and part of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Oiled Wildlife Team that worked under representatives of Xunta de Galicia managing the oiled bird center on a hill overlooking the city of Pontevedre. The wildlife response at that center, as well as other centers to the north as far as France and south into Portugal was truly an international effort. It included wildlife responders from organizations around Europe and around the world. Unsurprisingly one of those was my now boss, Dr. Mike Ziccardi, the Director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. At the time I was amazed at the rugged beauty of the coast of Galicia and the fishing villages all along it and at the devastation that the spill caused to animals and people.


Prestige oil spill 2002 –

This week I could too easily imagine it all over again if the Modern Express hit the rocks and wondered how a wildlife response would place out if that nightmare should occur.

Regular readers of our blog will remember Mike’s December post about the international group the OWCN is part of which is currently working to develop a system the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) to ensure capacity to rapidly respond to oiled wildlife anywhere in the world. There is still considerable work to be done to accomplish that goal but just the fact that those groups are working on a plan means that if once again the “unthinkable” happens and another Prestige or Erika or Treasure or Deepwater Horizon occurs, we can respond at least a little bit quicker or a little bit better. As you all know when it comes to oiled wildlife, especially in early February in the northern Atlantic, every minute and every trained person counts. Hopefully by the time the next big spill occurs, a global oiled wildlife system, whatever it looks like, will be operational and ready to roll. I am sure if Mike and OWCN have anything to say about it, it will.

  • Curt

Gratefulness Comes in Many Colors – Big Lagoon Oil Spill

Greetings from Arcata!

IMG_0090[1]As many of you know, several of us from the OWCN management team arrived here late yesterday to help ensure that we were doing everything possible to find, capture, and treat potentially impacted wildlife resulting from the truck that overturned late Saturday night on Highway 101. The truck that overturned was carrying diesel, which spilled into the nearby Big Lagoon, just north of Arcata. With thousands of waterfowl that consider Big Lagoon a good “hangout”, the fear was that many of these birds would become oiled.

They say that to be a truly happy person, you should be grateful for and recognize the little (and big) things in your life that happen every day. Not sure who “they” are, but I am told they are very wise people who know what they are talking about.  And in the spirit of the holidays, when most people are practicing, or at least thinking about being grateful, I want to share with you some things that I am grateful for these past couple of days:

  1. I am grateful that there are great OSPR folks up here, that reacted quickly and truly care for the amazing wildlife in this area.
  2. I am grateful that after a day and a half of field operations we have yet to see or capture confirmed oiled animals.
  3. I am grateful that this happened in the winter, right before the lagoon breached, which I am told happens each year with the winter rains.  If this spill had happened in the summer, a lot of the spilled diesel would have stayed in the lagoon, and more animals would have likely been oiled.
  4. I am grateful that today was the only sunny day they have had in this area in like 10 years. The forecast is for rain tomorrow (seriously – look it up if you don’t believe me).
  5. I am grateful that the gas stations around here are wide enough and not so crowded that I can drive the Sprinter and the boat trailer up to the gas pump without crazy maneuvering in a small space (it’s not pretty – take my word for it).
  6. I am grateful that we have a wonderful team of responders up here that can be counted on to make sure the wildlife are safe – either by going out in the field (and freezing their buns off – can I say that in a blog?), or getting the facilities ready (at the Marine Wildlife Care Center at HSU, which would be the primary care center for a spill in this area, and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird AllyX.
  7. I am especially grateful for hot coffee in the morning and cold beer at night (not sure if I can say the beer thing either, but there you have it).

There are many things to be grateful for tonight.  The plan for tomorrow is to have two Wildlife Recovery teams searching the Big Lagoon area at first light.  We would be grateful for no sightings of oiled wildlife, but if there are, we are certain that they will be captured quickly and well-cared for by our amazing team of responders.

– Kyra

International Efforts Paying Off!

I apologize in advance for a lengthy blog post, but it has been awhile since I have written last, and I have some great and exciting news to share on international efforts that the OWCN has been helping to move forward!

Over the past decade or so, as you might or might not know, the OWCN has been collaborating with most of the other larger wildlife response organizations in the world to develop a framework for a shared/mutually supportive international oiled wildlife readiness program. This effort has finally borne fruit this Fall, with the funding (by industry) of what is being called the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (or GOWRS), and I am happy to share the basis of this program with our local OWCN partners!

JIP copyAfter the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo spill of 2010, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) identified 19 areas that they felt required industry efforts to improve overall readiness and response (these recommendations can be found here). Initially, wildlife response was seen as a need, but could not be included in the initial efforts undertaken by a Joint Industry Project (or JIP) due to funding. Fortunately, a second round of funding was able to be found, and the GOWRS was officially launched as JIP20 in April of 2015.

The GOWRS is designed to be a two-year project which aims to involve leading oiled wildlife response organizations in a collaborative effort to:

  • Address the gap between oil spill response preparedness and wildlife response preparedness on a global scale and;
  • Develop the infrastructure for a future Tier 3 (or global) system for wildlife response, including:
    • Commonly agreed animal care principles for oiled wildlife response;
    • A standard operating procedure (SOP) for the collective mobilization of oiled wildlife response organizations;
    • A roadmap for the development of readiness systems (trainings, equipment and exercises) for the oil industry to ensure operational readiness for a Tier 3 wildlife response system; and
    • A governance structure that defines how the system is developed, operated, maintained and governed.

GOWRS_PeopleThe organizations that are helping move this project forward include: Aiuká (Brazil), Focus Wildlife (U.S.), International Bird Rescue (U.S.), UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) (U.S.), PRO Bird (Germany), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (UK), SANCCOB (South Africa), Sea Alarm Foundation (Belgium), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc. (U.S.), Wildbase, Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend (Belgium).

Currently, all of the partners are working hard (via Skype and e-mail methods) to generate the documents and procedures necessary to allow such an ambitious and far-reaching program to operate. As we move these methods forward, I hope to keep our OWCN Member Organizations better informed about our progress in this exciting effort!

There are other exciting National and International efforts that the UC Davis/OWCN staff are embarking upon to better help animals in need, but I will hold those for another blog, so stay tuned!


Come and Gone!

And so, just like that, Oilapalooza 2015 has come and gone.  This year’s Oilapalooza drew a record crowd of more than 170 participants from 35 member organizations and affiliated agencies!  Wow!  It was wonderful to see all of you again, to meet new people, and to welcome new member organizations into the network.  Thanks to everyone for making it such a fun and successful Oilapalooza, and thank you for deciding to spend your weekend with us.


GREAT Turnout for Saturday Lectures!

Fun was not in short supply: Saturday was a day full of interesting talks, including several Refugio talks, one about the OSPR and OWCN inland expansion, a couple talks about the new and upcoming electronic data collection for recovery and care, among others. We also had most of the member organizations and agencies give a brief overview of any news they wanted to share.  It is always enlightening to hear what groups have been up to (this year the answer to that question is MURRES…and lots of them!).

We ended the day with a reception and raffle at the hotel in Emeryville. Sunday was another exciting day, with 13 different workshops to choose from! They all took place at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield. We had people blowing up wavy men (as one potential hazing technique), learning how to capture inland species, practicing how to place a wing wrap on a bird, and getting to open up marine mammals and birds during the necropsy workshops.

Workshop Folks Learning About Visual Hazing Methods on Sunday

Workshop Folks Learning About Visual Hazing Methods on Sunday

Oilapalooza is not only fun for learning new skills and hearing about new research, but it is tremendously valuable for coming together as a network. Just like each branch of a tree gives the tree its collective strength, so does each individual from each member organization and affiliated agency, in making the OWCN the best oil spill response network in the world.

I know I speak for all core OWCN staff in saying that we are so grateful for each and every one of you, and your contribution in making the OWCN amazing. See you next time.

– Kyra

Oil Spill in Bangladesh – Q & A with Mike Ziccardi

Please see below for a video and a partial transcript from a Q & A session with Mike Ziccardi in regards to December’s oil spill in Bangladesh!



A cargo ship rammed a tanker in Bangladesh’s Sela River in December of 2014, spilling 92,000 gallons of oil into the world’s largest mangrove forest. The Sundarbans, which is where the spill happened, is listed as three different wildlife sanctuaries, and is a world heritage site. OWCN Director Mike Ziccardi was called in to help with the assessment, spending about two weeks in the country during the spill’s aftermath.

We sat down with Mike a few weeks after he got back to talk about the experience.

When were you called in to the situation?

A week after the spill, I was contacted with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) because the Bangladeshi government was considering using chemical dispersants to get rid of the oil. Due to my involvement with NOAA in writing the national guidelines for oiled marine mammal response, I was put on stand by and then deployed as part of the UN Mission along with USAID and other American experts from NOAA.

What was your recommendation regarding chemical dispersants in this case?

Chemical dispersants can be useful, but they can also be dangerous in sensitive habitats because it does not completely get rid of the oil, and the chemicals can introduce more concerns. The possibility of the chemicals being absorbed by a lot of creatures and plants was a large concern because the spill was very close to shore.

When is using a dispersant a good idea?

They are less risky to use in open water areas. In California we have the pre-approval to use some dispersants if needed, but they need to be used off-shore. For example, if they wanted to use a dispersant in the San Francisco Bay, there would need to be an extensive discussion with great consideration of the potential negative impacts.

What were some of the chief concerns in regards to this spill?

The Bangladeshi government became very concerned about the environmental damage to the Sundarbans and for the wildlife living there, particularly because there are more than twenty globally endangered species of wildlife in the area. The royal Bengal tiger lives in the Sundarbans, and we believe there are less than 200 of them in the area. There are also two species of dolphin (Irrawaddy dolphin and the long-nosed Gangetic river dolphin) that reside there, both of which are threatened or endangered internationally.

What was the local response to the spill?

When an oil spill occurs, the first week is typically devoted to clean- up. With this spill, they had no spill response capabilities in the country. The Bangladeshi government did send some Navy ships out to use a contaminant boom (a temporary floating barrier used to contain an oil spill), but unfortunately the oil went right under the boom. A majority of the oil clean- up was done by local fisherman, with no protective gear, boots, gloves, or training on how to handle an oil spill.

How did the spill happen?

This passageway was a tanker vessel’s access to the sea. Unfortunately, the legal way to pass through this area was blocked off due to sediment build up, so shipping had to go through the Sela River. Commercial ships are not allowed in this part of the Sela River because there are three dolphin sanctuaries in the river and the spill actually occurred in one of them.

What was evaluated from the spill?

Four of the response subgroups were dedicated to mangrove, aquatic habitats, and the impacts on the people in the area. We were able to determine some of the acute impacts right away, however some of the recommendations we are making to the Bangladeshi government are long term, to make sure that we are looking at the overall picture. We want to continue accessing the environment and wildlife for at least the next 2-3 years for population changes.

What are the main concerns for the wildlife in the area?

The freshwater crocodile in the area are fairly endangered, and oil can affect the eggs that they lay. If the oil that is in the environment washes over the eggs, the population can be affected. There are also two populations of river otters, which are at a high risk of oil problems, so we need to monitor those. Of course the two populations of dolphins and the tigers all need to be monitored as well—to see if they are hunting and moving away from their habitats.

What are the next steps for the preservation of the Sundarbans?

Right now we have a report that was generated through the UN Mission which discusses the need for ongoing assessment of the Sundarbans, in addition to recommendations for response planning for future spills. I believe there will be a UN group going back to the Sundarbans and that the Wildlife Conservation Society will likely also be going back as they are the world’s leader in fresh water dolphin research and took part in the spill response. My hope is that they will be able to develop a plan for the dolphins in the area and for the people around the Sundarbans with local and international support.

— Interview and video by Desiree Aguiar and Justin Cox

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

Snow, Marbled Murrelets, Glaciers, and Seabird Talks

Mike and I recently returned from Juneau, Alaska, where we participated in the Pacific Seabird Group annual meeting.  Between Thursday and Saturday of last week we were able to listen to a number of interesting talks about seabirds in the Pacific, learning everything from what seabirds eat to the most technologically-advanced gadgets for tracking seabirds (perfect for a gadget geek like me!).  In addition, Mike and I were co-conveners of a Special Paper Session entitled, “Oiled Seabird Rescue and Rehabilitation: Is it Worth It?”  This session was well-attended and featured ten excellent presentations.  The following is a list of the titles of the talks and the presenters:

  • Oiled seabird rescue and rehabilitation:  is it worth it? (Kyra Mills-Parker, OWCN – UC Davis)
  • Variables that can affect survival of oil-affected seabirds before, during, and after the rehabilitation process (Michael Ziccardi (OWCN – UC Davis)
  • Magnetic cleansing of oiled seabirds:  where are we and where to next? (Peter Dann, Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia)
  • Impacts of major oil spills in California, 1994-2013 (Hannah Nevins, UC Davis, DFW-Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center)
  • Longevity and dispersion of rehabilitated seabirds and waterfowl, 1980-2010: preliminary data from oiled bird band returns (Becky Duerr, International Bird Rescue)
  • Penguins clearly benefit from rehabilitation following exposure to oil (Valeria Ruoppolo, Univ. of Sao Paolo and IFAW)
  • Oiled wildlife response in New Zealand: the C/V Rena incident (Kerri Morgan, Massey Univ., presented by Michael Ziccardi)
  • Causes of seabird mortality in the immediate aftermath of the Rena oil spills, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand (Shane Baylis, Monash Univ.)
  • Impacts of the 2001 Jessica oil spill on endemic and native Galapagos birds, reptiles, and mammals (Howard Snell, Univ. of New Mexico)
  • Seabirds, oil spill response and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: DWH and changing management priorities (Roger Helm, USFWS)

Each of the talks offered interesting and thought-provoking information on different topics related to oil spill events, the effects of oiling on seabirds, and summaries of impacts and rehabilitation efforts. Full abstracts of each of these talks can be found at the PSG website by clicking here. The meeting provided a great opportunity to re-connect with old colleagues, meet new ones, and share ideas.  Despite the 50+ degree difference in temperature between Juneau and California, Mike and I were warmed, humbled, and inspired by this conference.

And yes, we did  see snow, glaciers, AND Marbled Murrelets (the last two only at a distance!).



Mike Ziccardi and Becky Duerr with Mendenhall Glacier in the background.