Draft Oil Spill Response Strategy shows progress on wildlife response in New Zealand

Maritime New Zealand, the agency tasked with oversight of oil spill preparedness and response in that country, has issued a draft of the New Zealand Marine Oil Spill Response Strategy 2014 for comment. The response strategy document is reviewed regularly and updated as needed. The experience gained during the MV Rena grounding in 2011has helped to shape the updated document.

The part of the document dealing with oiled wildlife response has gone from this in the 2006 version:

The aim of wildlife response is to avoid, remedy or mitigate any detrimental impacts on wildlife during an oil pollution response. This primarily concerns marine and coastal birds, reptiles, and where safety allows, marine mammals, due to their susceptibility, protection status and community expectations.

While the OSC is directly responsible for ensuring there is a credible and effective wildlife response, additional specific expertise will be needed. Maritime New Zealand has contracted Massey University to develop and maintain a Tier 3 wildlife response operational plan annexed to the National Plan, a national wildlife treatment facility, and personnel and equipment for use during spill response. The Department of Conservation and Tangata Whenua should also be involved where protected or culturally significant species (see Appendix 5) are threatened, and as key conservation management stakeholders.

Wildlife response will, whenever possible adhere to international best practice protocols while prioritising human safety as well as animal welfare. Where appropriate, it may involve exclusion (‘hazing’), and/or pre-emptive capture. In all cases, monitoring of rescued and released wildlife should be an integral component of the rehabilitation process providing feedback to improve efficiency of on-going operations.

Should a spill occur whereby there is no direct response action to contain and recover the oil, wildlife response may be the only intervention activity undertaken.

Wildlife response costs authorised by the OSC are fully recoverable from the spiller, under both the Maritime Transport Act and the Civil Liability Convention 1969. It is recognised that oiled wildlife may be discovered after other response efforts have ceased, and this should be taken into account during de-escalation and termination.

To this in the 2014 draft:

When wildlife is affected by a marine oil spill, the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team is mobilised. This team is trained, managed, and coordinated by specialists in Massey University’s Wildbase Oil Response Team. In addition to Wildbase staff, the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team consists of other wildlife specialists and coordinators from the regions. Each region also has a team of volunteer wildlife responders available to assist.

Specialist wildlife equipment can be deployed from the Palmerston North Massey University campus and a purpose-built wildlife treatment facility is also available.

Much of the assistance during the Rena response was provided under existing arrangements through agreements, memoranda of understanding, or formal contracts with Maritime NZ (see Appendix F). Maritime NZ actively develops, maintains, and enhances all necessary contractual and functional relationship arrangements with other agencies and organisations for expertise and advice, aerial and at-sea response capability, environmental monitoring and assessment, and wildlife protection during a significant Tier 3 oil spill.

By providing a clear, concise picture of who, what and how, the strategy document ensures that oiled wildlife will be responded to quickly and efficiently by experienced, well-trained personnel and, in the case of a spill with significant impact on wildlife,  that international assistance is ensured through ongoing relationships with professionals in other countries. Over time it has been documented that responding in this way results in better animal care and improved survival and release rates during an oiled wildlife response.