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

13th EOW in B’more

The number 13 turned out to be lucky for the 2018 Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference earlier this month in Baltimore, MD or B’more as the hometown of John Waters, Divine and the Baltimore Orioles is affectionately known. For one thing, no one was called away to respond to an oil spill. This iteration was widely considered to be one the best, going all the way back to the initial Effects of Oil on Birds Symposium which convened in 1982 about 100 miles east as the oiled bird flies.  The conference was presented by Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research and OWCN and hosted by the National Aquarium but the success was the result of the hard work of a big flock of people including all the speakers, moderators, workshop instructors, volunteers, committee members and sponsors.

A few of the highlights for me included Gary Shigenaka of NOAA and his History of Oil Spills, an updating of Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research on-going testing of products of the removal of oil from feathers, case studies involving polyisobutylene on birds, and a presentation on managing compassion fatigue and burnout during an oiled wildlife response. Of course, there was also many opportunities between presentations to ask more questions, meet new colleagues and reconnect with old ones at the icebreaker, the beer tasting, the poster session/reception and the banquet which was held at the National Aquarium.

The conference closed with a panel discussion moderated by OWCN’s own Dr. Mike Ziccardi and included 4 representatives with an depth of experience in oiled wildlife response and a breadth of international perspective spanning industry, government agencies and NGO’s.Closing panel before They answered questions on a number of topics regarding the achievements and challenges going forward for oiled wildlife response and those of us who have chosen it as a profession. And then as Steve Jobs would say “one more thing”  as two post-conference activities were available for those who were not quite ready to say goodbye, a birding trip and a sea turtle and pinniped workshop. I can only report on the workshop. I thought it was all great but the photos will let you judge for yourself. I am already looking forward to the yet to be scheduled 14thEffects of Oil on Wildlife

 

Hope to see you there!

 

Curt

Thoughts from the road…

As I pack up our reliable 1997 F-250 diesel truck and begin the journey home along Interstate 5 north, I am filled with gratitude for being part of another great OWCN training.

Nancy, Curt, and I taught our Basic Responder Training course yesterday, hosted graciously at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. Participants were engaged, enthusiastic, and, best of all, represented a diverse collection of our Southern California member organizations.  We had 30 folks from 8 different organizations, including:

  • Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit
  • International Bird Rescue
  • Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Marine Mammal Care Center – Los Angeles
  • Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  • SeaWorld San Diego
  • UC Davis Wildlife Health Center
  • Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center

This diversity also provided us with a few veteran responders with lots of spill experience to share, sitting alongside many newcomers who have yet to respond to a spill but are eager to help (should they be needed). One participant shared with me after the class that she found spill response a bit intimidating, but that fear was alleviated via this course and that she was now ready to lend a hand.

While everyone in that room hopes this new knowledge will never need to be used, it does provide me great comfort to know that we have so many skilled, passionate, and reliable responders throughout our state ready to jump into action.

Thank you Pacific Marine Mammal Center for hosting, and thank you to all the participants for your support.

Scott

 

It’s Not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure!

Last week, Mike briefly blogged about the current job openings at OWCN. If you are a regular reader on this site, you know that there have been a number of blogs over the last half year devoted to goodbyes and thank you’s. Friends and colleagues who were formerly key members of the OWCN Management Team have moved on to new and exciting chapters in their lives. Those of us who remain are excited for everything we already have planned for 2018, but we are even more excited to find out who will join our team and what new experience, knowledge, perspective, ideas and enthusiasm they will bring with them.SilhoutesI can honestly say that working at OWCN is never boring or unfulfilling. Each day dawns with tremendous potential. Many days end with my accomplishing little that I planned at the start of the day, but always succeeding in doing something that will make a difference to animals at risk from oil spills in California or around the world.  And that is true for everyone on our team, though, perhaps, we don’t always recognize it. The OWCN Management team is made up of individuals with a wide range of skills, values, and viewpoints and working with them is a unique experience. Every person on our team is expected to be a leader, providing vision and innovation when called upon but easily adapting to take on whatever task is needed to successfully produce Oilapalooza, wash an oiled snake, or do an interview on the radio.

IMGP0107The beauty of working here is you never know what your day will be, but you can bet it won’t be boring. There are few jobs where one night you might be out on the ocean catching murres with the moon just rising, the following week teaching 6 graders about oiled wildlife, and the month after, training oiled wildlife responders in Mexico or Azerbaijan.

2014-12-04 11.35.37 I don’t mean to say that working at OWCN is all fun and games, every single day – it is not.  It can be very hard work, especially during an oil spill activation, with animal lives in the balance. But I think most of us here thrive on wanting to do everything within our power to help prepare for the next spill, which will ultimately help save more animals – our ultimate goal.  So if this sounds like you, who you would like to be, or a team you would like to be part of, I hope you will apply for one of the 3 openings!

-Curt

Responder Specialist:
Final filing dates for the Readiness Coordinator and Vet positions will be 19 January 2018, and the Responder Specialist due 22 January 2018.

Farewell OWCN!

Justin Cox (Fourth from right) joining the rest of the OWCN team during the pre-drill festivities in Quincy, CA

I’ve managed communications for the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is home to Oiled Wildlife Care Network, for the past four years. About halfway through my tenure, I booked a week-and-a-half long vacation so that the band I play in could go on a 10-date tour. The first of those shows was on May 20, 2015, which is not an insignificant timeframe for the OWCN.

That’s one day after a pipeline burst and the Refugio Oil Spill began! Of course! I spent the next two days making phone calls and sending emails to put the ducks in a row – coordinating with the UC Davis communications team to make sure they could send people down there to capture photos and document our team’s work.

To take matters to their logical extreme, the bulk of the OWCN team was at a conference in Alaska when the pipe ruptured. They had to fly down in waves as the severity of the spill became clear and seats opened up on flights. Some flew to Davis first to prep equipment and transport it to the spill. I was there to watch Kyra and Tim pack the MASH and head south. Fast and efficient from top to bottom. It was cool to watch.

I reflect on this today because, after four years in my position, I am moving on to an exciting opportunity with the SeaDoc Society in the Pacific Northwest. It’s another Wildlife Health Center program, so I’ll still be part of the family.

I’ve always found the OWCN to be interesting (compared to the many other programs I work with at the WHC) in that there is this constant need for readiness because disaster can come at any time, and those disasters can take many shapes and sizes.

That constant need for improvement is abundantly clear at the Network’s yearly full-deployment drills, where every fathomable curveball gets thrown just to make sure the team has the skills to hit them. If there’s a swing and a miss, then it’s time to talk about ways to improve for next time. That cycle is endless.

There’s no way to ever be 100% prepared, especially with the expansion to inland spill response and the many threats posed by rail transport, but the OWCN does an impressive job of getting as close as possible, and never resting on their laurels.

That extends beyond animal response and care. They manage databases, run trainings, mobilize teams and even handle the bulk of their communications on their own. The fact that they maintain a weekly blog is impressive given their array of other responsibilities. During Refugio, the team provided updates on social media, answered important questions via blog posts and responded to requests from the media.

By the time I made it down to San Pedro where dozens of oiled pelicans were recovering, the most urgent work had been done. The team had seized upon the unfortunate reality of the spill and used it as an opportunity to put trackers on a selection of pelicans to monitor their behavior and survival after the spill. Those results will inform and improve future oil spill responses. Such is the quest for steady improvement at the OWCN. I feel lucky to have worked alongside this team.

I plan on refreshing my HAZWOPER certification in the coming month, so if/when a big one happens, drop me a line and ask my new boss to send me down with a camera and a notepad!

-Justin Cox

NOTE: Me and the entire OWCN team wants to sincerely thank Justin for his behind-the-scenes professional telling of our story over the past several years, and wishes him and his family the best of luck in his new adventure with our sister organization up north on Orcas Island! And, yes, I will be on the phone with Joe Gaydos when we need him! – Mike

OWCN @ State Scientist Day

A few of us OWCN’ers (Tim, Nancy and myself) had a great time educating a few thousand students from area grade schools at the 2017 State Scientist Day held at the State Capitol in Sacramento and hosted by the California Association of Professional Scientists. (more info and pictures here)

It served as a great opportunity for us to set up a few of our educational outreach activities including our ‘blubber glove’ experiment, feather examination station (with magnifying glasses and microscopes), and our go to classic…sea otter pelts. IMG_0809IMG_0808

 

 

 

 

 

While the kids were definitely very excited to be out of the classroom for the day, I believe we were able to grasp the attention of many and teach them a few fun facts about our amazing California wildlife.  Informal education, especially in a setting like this, can be surprisingly tiring, but equally gratifying, as the raw enthusiasm and hunger for information that these kids bring undoubtedly rubs off on you.  In a time where the value of science may be questioned, these children provided a reassuring reminder that the scientific search for answers is priceless!

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-Scott

 

The Value of Science

keep-calm-and-love-science-287Science (noun): the state of knowing; knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.

Over the past week or so, I have started (and restarted) this blog post numerous times as the news cycle has ebbed and flowed. Potential changes to regulations, laws, and personnel at key Federal agencies associated with the new US Administration have created great uncertainty regarding the future of environmental efforts.  No matter what your political leanings, I think everyone can agree that we are living in particularly tumultuous times.

One significant issue that has struck me deeply in the past several months, however, is the great scrutiny/debate over the value and role of science and scientific findings. These efforts (if valued and used correctly) can help to foster legislative and/or societal change for the better; if not, decisions can be made without factual support and are thereby more prone to being swayed by public opinion or conjecture. Stephanie blogged last week on how citizens can help in this effort but, more broadly, it seems as if scientists are embattled on a number of fronts – particularly on environmental issues.

IMG_4207For wildlife conservation (and specifically oiled wildlife response and welfare), much of what we do and know is based on best available information and not hard data, as it can be exceedingly difficult to design studies that can collect and interpret information necessary to answer our key questions. During oil spill responses, the emergent nature of the work necessitates rapid decisions as well as huge allocations of resources. The animals we receive also often have life-threatening health issues that require immediate intervention. Taking the time needed to thoroughly consider appropriate projects, as well as finding the resources (people, time, funding) to conduct the work, is challenging at best.

One of the aspects I am most proud of within our California program (in addition to our wonderful partners!) is the explicit mandate to provide “best achievable” capture and care to those animals in our charge. This legislatively-stated goal further requires us to support a research and technology development program that demands we explore better ways of responding to animals in crisis, as well as having a greater understanding of how oil can affect wildlife species. Since 1996, the OWCN has been proud to fund more than 130 scientific projects with external collaborators, as well as conduct numerous studies led by OWCN Management Team staff. The information gleaned from this work has helped us to better develop treatment protocols, design modular and permanent equipment/facilities, and help to support understanding of long-term ecosystem-level effects that spills can cause.

sea turtle 3While we collectively have a long way to go to understand the complexity of petroleum impacts on environmental systems, recent findings from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 have significantly helped to increase this knowledge pool. As part of the Damage Assessment phase of the spill, an extremely in-depth look at the multitude of direct and indirect effects on all parts of the food chain has been published and is available at NOAA’s Gulf Spill Restoration site, with more detailed information found on the DoI’s Administrative Record site. Additionally, publications are now starting to make their way into the scientific literature detailing the impacts specifically to higher vertebrates, specifically birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Specifically, a special edition of Endangered Species Research was released just this week containing 20 publications detailing the impacts to mammals and turtles, with a special issue of a prominent toxicology journal to soon detail work on birds.

Thus, while the value of science and scientific inquiry may be debated on a broader level, the efforts of the OWCN and others directed at a more complete understanding of mitigating the impacts of oil should accidents occur cannot be minimized. We, as a program of UC Davis, are committed to continue to do the best investigative work possible to minimize animal suffering as well as more fully understand both the direct as well as indirect effects that spills can create. Due to the forethought of California legislators and voters, the support of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the indefatigable efforts of our partners within the OWCN Member Organizations, we collectively can continue to drive this profession forward for the betterment of our wildlife.

Mike