Norway emergency relief and rehabilitation report from Rocknes spill
Field Report #13— Friday, February 26, 2004
The team has now fully de-mobilized from Norway. After the release of 11 Eider ducks last Friday another 11 birds were released on Saturday followed by four on Sunday. The last Mallard was then released on Monday leaving just two Eider ducks at the center. We had concerns about the last Eider ducks, one adult male and one juvenile, as they had been washed at the beginning of February and were still not waterproof despite all the supportive care from the team. The juvenile was also quite thin and underweight.
Every effort was made by the team to keep their pool water as clean as possible and to ensure they had as much access to food. On Monday after an evaluation that showed their waterproofing had improved they both went into a pool without a haul-out for the first time. Each Eider must spend at least 48 hours in a non haul-out pool before being evaluated for release.
If we needed any reminder of the importance of waterproofing to these birds, the temperature dropped to well below freezing during our final days. If we had any concerns about these birds getting wet after release it really would be cruel to let them go no matter how much we wanted to see them released. Three of our remaining five team members, Curt Clumpner, Ken Brewer and Bruce Adkins, left early on Tuesday morning, which left only Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo and myself on the ground. The center was the quietest it had ever been and the cold weather and snow continued, making it even tougher for these birds. As if they both knew this was their big chance our checks on Tuesday showed that their waterproofing was looking good. The juvenile also seemed to be eating every fish we threw into the pool and had gained considerable weight.
On Wednesday, the day we were both scheduled to leave Norway, we evaluated both birds for release and despite all the odds they passed! We drove to the North of the Island with Arnold Haaland from NNI and, for the last time, released Eiders back into the Fjords. We then packed up our remaining items back at the center, said our goodbyes and headed for the airport. The last two birds and the last two people released on the same day! This takes the total number of birds released to 81 out of 131 received at our center.
To put this into context, our team did not arrive on the ground until 5 days after the incident. Search and collection did not begin for another two days. This kind of response had also never been tried before in Norway so there was no preparedness and no understanding of what is involved in this work. This meant that much of the vital equipment we needed either had to be constructed from scratch or shipped from other countries which all took time that we did not have. In spite of all of these challenges we managed to save over 60% of the birds we received and relieve the suffering of those that were beyond saving. There is still a long way to go with this issue in Norway but we hope that this will lay the foundation for future responses and provide an interesting case study for the authorities. NNI, the environmental consultancy we have been working with, have already applied for government funding for post-release studies on the gulls and mallards released and will carry out this work with or without their support. This effort is both a credit to our team, who worked tirelessly for these animals, and the volunteers and organizations in Norway that gave up so much of their time to make this happen. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This first step is both a positive and an important one for oiled wildlife in Norway.
Field Report #12— Friday, February 20, 2004
There are only five of our team members still here now so despite there being less birds there has been a great deal of work to share out between a small number of people, hence the lack of reports from the field! As it stands today we have 23 birds here at the center. We have been releasing eider ducks every other day for the past week and this afternoon 11 birds left the center, our biggest single release so far. We had agreed that this would be our best chance to re-ignite interest in the media and also to invite local volunteers and sponsors along to see the end result of all their hard work. The turnout from the media was excellent. All three Norwegian television stations were represented as well as the national radio station, and a number of our team were interviewed.
We are hopeful that quite a few of the remaining birds will be ready for release in the next day or two. We will also be carefully re-assessing the records and condition of the others. Some of the birds have been here for a few weeks now and are either not showing signs of improvement or have additional problems. If these animals will not fully recover and be able to thrive again in the wild then euthanasia will be the most humane solution for them now.
There is always only a small window of opportunity for oiled wildlife and here in Norway the lack of preparedness for this kind of response slowed down our efforts at the start. Many of the birds were recovered after more than a week of being oiled and were severely debilitated. This makes it much more difficult to rehabilitate them successfully.
On Tuesday a meeting took place in Bergen between the various governmental agencies responsible for wildlife and spill response to discuss the Rocknes incident. Arnold Haaland from NNI had invited them to visit our operation but we had not received a response. We were therefore taken by surprise when 7 people arrived at the center on Tuesday afternoon asking for a tour of the facilities. The group included representatives from the County GovernorÕs office, the Nature Directorate and the Coastguard.
They stayed with us for an hour and were given a thorough tour and explanation of the process for rehabilitating oiled wildlife. We were able to talk about the importance of preparedness and also about the importance of developing the skills and experience to respond to larger potential incidents in the future, including those that may have a significant conservation value where red-listed species such as Stellars Eiders may be involved.
They all seemed very interested in the work and, while convincing the authorities to change the policy on oiled wildlife will be a much longer process, we were delighted that they took advantage of the opportunity to see how this operation has been put together and to see clean, healthy, waterproof birds in the pools. Following discussions with one of the volunteers about the importance of contingency planning and preparedness, the volunteer decided to make contact with his local MP to ask if they could table a parliamentary question to the Fisheries Minister on behalf of the operation.
The question was raised in parliament on Tuesday by Audun Bjorlo Lysbakken from the Socialist Left Party. The following is the text as retrieved from the official website:
ÒWhat is the Minister’s view on initiatives like Aksjon Rein Fugl (Action Clean Bird), and what is the Department’s (Fisheries) view on public funding for such actions/work, or permanent initiatives that will make such responses a permanent part of oil contingency ns/stores already in place in coastal areas
At Horsoy, on Askoy, Hordaland, a center for oiled seabirds from the Rocknes spill has been established. The project is called ÔAksjon Rein Fugl,Õ and has dealt with over 100 oiled birds. The birds are rehabilitated and cleaned for oil. The work is done by volunteers from Bergen and surrounding areas in cooperation with an international group (IFAW). The instigators believe this work (and rehabilitation of oiled seabirds) should be an important part of any contingency planning in case of oil spills along the coast. This action is financed by IFAW and volunteers. We should be releasing birds on Saturday and Sunday and also beginning to pack up much of our equipment. We have procured a great deal more during this spill that will need to be stored for future use. Thankfully, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), an international spill response organization based in Southampton in the UK, have agreed to store this for us, which will be a tremendous help and will greatly improve our own preparedness. Once this equipment is safely on its way, we will be too.
Field Report #10— Thursday, February 12, 2004
Today we have some really great news – the first rescued Eider Ducks have been released back into the wild!
The three Eiders were set free in a nature reserve on the island of Askoy, near Bergen, signaling the start of a series of releases of the oiled seabirds that have been cleaned and rehabilitated here at the rehabilitation center. This first release of Eiders comes after several weeks of the rescue operation and now we will be releasing birds every few days. We have now cared for more than 120 birds at the center, which is in an unused fish processing plant on the island of Askoy. When they arrive vets examine the birds and take blood samples. Typically they are suffering from hypothermia and dehydration and need to be tube fed fluids. The intricate washing process takes place after a couple of days when the birds have recovered enough strength. Finally they need to be put in recovery pools to regain their waterproofing before they can be released. It is round the clock work for the team and the many local volunteers who are helping, but itÕs all worthwhile when you see the birds released back into the wild again!
Field Report #9 — Friday, February 6, 2004
W e are making good progress. 50 birds have now been washed, 13 have already been released and there are 15 still oiled. We plan to have a final push on search and collection over the weekend and will then have a clearer idea as to how much longer the rest of the operation will take. As many of the systems are now set up and working more smoothly I wanted to take the time in this report to talk about the team we have here in Norway.
The ER oil spill team on a day-to-day basis is only a handful of people and a joint effort between International Bird Rescue Research Center and IFAW. During a response the team has the capability of expanding, calling on experience from within the two organizations and from around the world.
Many members of the team have worked together in previous incidents, for others it is the first time. We ask a great deal of everyone that we call in and they each give 200 percent to the cause.
The situations we face always bring their own challenges and even when the bird numbers do not reach the magnitude of the Treasure the lack of preparedness, such as we have faced here in Norway and in Spain can make things extremely difficult. Working in a new country our reputation does not necessarily precede us either and so we have to prove ourselves, and actions in this kind of situation speak much louder than words.
Many of you will already be very familiar with International Bird Rescue Research Center as their relationship with IFAW goes back many years. They are true leaders in this field and on a response their experience shines through.
To the uninitiated it can seem like magic; the ability to care for large numbers of animals in an emergency situation without any of the proper resources to hand. When equipment is not available alternatives are constructed using any materials that can be found. There are never any problems that cannot be overcome, everything can be worked around if you just think outside of the box. It is true flexibility and it is all to ensure the best achievable care for the animals.
Jay Holcomb and Barbara Callahan have been instrumental in setting up the center and guiding the rehabilitation effort whilst Curt Clumpner has concentrated on coordinating the search and collection, which has been so critical in this situation. The rest of the team has also been fantastic. Manja Griehl from IFAW Germany has worked tirelessly to give the best care to the oiled birds, working extremely closely with our two vets Valeria Ruoppolo from Brazil and Martin Lavoie from Quebec, Canada. Another regular team member Gary Ward, from New Zealand, has been brought in to help with washing and the waterproofing of the clean birds while Chris Battaglia, also from IBRRC, was charged with setting up the facility with pools, water systems and a reliable power supply (ably assisted by our very own Bob the Builder, Nick Jenkins!). Last but not least IBRRC responders Ken Brewer and Bruce Adkins have lent their years of experience to the search and collection effort too and have both been leading teams out on the water.
We have been very warmly received here in Norway and it is a credit to each and every one of our team, who not only know how to best take care of the animals but also how to win over and inspire the local organizations and volunteers, and establish trust and friendship under incredibly stressful circumstances. I feel extremely proud and honored to work with them all.