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  • Interview
  • Wildlife

GOWRS Partner Interview - Episode 9: Wildbase

In this ninth episode, Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Dr. Louise Chilvers from Wildbase at Massey University in New Zealand.

  • By Paul Kelway
  • nov. 1, 2023
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GOWRS Partner Interview - Episode 9: Wildbase

In this ninth episode in the GOWRS Partner Interview series, Paul Kelway, OSRL’s Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager, is joined by Dr. Louise Chilvers from Wildbase at Massey University in New Zealand.

Dr. Chilvers is a professor in Wildlife Ecology in the School of Veterinary Sciences at Massey University and is the Director of the Wildbase Oiled Wildlife Response Team. Louise's roles include leading all aspects of preparedness, planning, research and response for oiled wildlife response in New Zealand, in collaboration with Maritime New Zealand.

If you wish to watch the video of this interview, you can view it here.


Paul: Hi, this is Paul Kelway from Oil Spill Response from the Wildlife Preparedness and Response Manager and welcome to this next episode in a series of interviews I've been doing with the network of leading wildlife response organisations that have been participating in the multi-year Global Oiled Wildlife Response System or GOWRS project. So GOWRS has actually now transitioned from a project to a Global World Wildlife Response Service. So it's a guaranteed four-person Tier 3 Wildlife Assessment team and that's now part of OSRL's Guaranteed SLA services to members. To raise awareness of the incredible organisations that are collectively delivering that service, I've been hosting these conversations with each of the 10 GOWRS partners and today I'm joined by Dr. Louise Chilvers from Wildbase at Massey University in New Zealand. 

Dr. Chilvers is a professor in Wildlife Ecology in the School of Veterinary Sciences at Massey University and is the Director of the Wildbase Oiled Wildlife Response Team. Louise's roles include leading all aspects of preparedness, planning, research and response for oiled wildlife response in New Zealand, in collaboration with Maritime New Zealand. Massey University is also a founding member of GOWRS, and Louise was actually the chair of GOWRS for three years, from 2017 to 2020. 

So Louise, thanks very much for joining us. 

Louise: Morning, Paul. My pleasure. 

Paul: So yeah, thanks for getting up early, your time to do this and yeah, so let's maybe start at the beginning. And I guess really the first question is to ask you just to briefly introduce Wildbase, so you know what is the mission and where and how do you carry out your work. 

Louise: Thanks. Wildbase is part of the School of Vet within Massey University and there are several parts of Wildbase. You know our overall mission is to provide veterinarian science services for the conservation and health and welfare of wildlife in Aotearoa New Zealand. So that's our biggest bigger mission. Within that is the oiled wildlife response team and our mission is to work to minimise the effects of oil pollution on wildlife through prevention, protection, rescue, rehabilitation and release. And we undertake oiled wildlife response, response and research, training planning within New Zealand and actually throughout Asia Pacific. So yeah, that's what we're about. Wildbase is a bigger team. We have a wildlife hospital, a pathology unit, research unit, a recovery unit which is open to the public and in partnership with the local council of Palmerston North, where Massey is based and of course, the oiled wildlife team. 

Paul: Yeah, So it's interesting. You're connected into this wider institution and obviously it's  that scientific basis of what you do. And then you also have this formal relationship with the government of New Zealand through Maritime New Zealand to provide this response capability and programmes. So are there a couple of examples of the work that you've done in those roles that illustrate a little bit more, what the Wildbase team is all about? 

Louise: Yeah, thanks for that. I would guess the main thing that Wildbase in New Zealand is known for recently, well relatively recently has been the MV Rena response which was in 2011. So that was a container ship that hit a reef 11 kilometres just off one of our major ports. And it was an unusual response in that the ship released an initially a load of oil and then the ship broke in half a month later and released another load of oil. So, it was quite a long response. On the world scale, it wasn't a big oil release, it was about 350 tonnes. However, it spread over a large area over 360 kilometres and therefore it affected a lot of animals. I think we had about 2,000 animals unfortunately come in dead and we captured and rehabilitated just over 400 mainly little blue Penguins, but everything from cormorants to ducks and even had a few domestic terrestrial birds come in. 

I guess the other thing which is different about us from many of the other groups in GOWRS is that we are fully government funded organisation for the whole of New Zealand and because of that we are integrated with government agreements and memorandums wider than New Zealand. So there's memorandums of understanding with Australia and throughout the Pacific for our Pacific island nations that we neighbour. So we haven't responded in those areas before but we certainly plan and help train in those areas. So we kind of reach slightly wider than New Zealand 

Paul: and it's interesting because we obviously talk a lot about having a good practice approach which is  ideally it's on a national level that there is this active or proactive programme approach where there's really an effort to have a plan and to have and to train and exercise capability to be ready to respond to that plan. And so certainly New Zealand is a really good example of that in action and ultimately that success of the Rena was built on some of that preparedness over the years prior to that, right? 

Louise: Yeah. Thank you Paul. Yes, I mean we have quite an intensive training plan. We're a bit like the OWCN [Oiled Wildlife Care Network] in California in that we have trained volunteers throughout the country. Each of our regional councils, which is the equivalent of a state and most other countries, has regional responders. And then we train specialists throughout the country as well. So, we have a team that's ready to go. We have equipment again in each regional council mainly for the initial stages capture and PPE and hazing. But then we have trailers distributed throughout the country and of course a national stockpile. We are designed to be a mobile response team. So we have our equipment and because New Zealand isn't that big that equipment can be picked up and put on the back of a truck and moved and be ready to be set up within 24 hours. So we instead of having facilities that you increase the capacity during an oil spill, we actually just move our entire facility and set it up as close to the spill as possible and as practical. 

Paul: That's actually a really good point because as you say when the Rena response happened, it wasn't as if you were running that out of your veterinary hospital or facility. It was actually a purpose built temporary facility with all the logistical resourcing elements that something of that scale would need, right? 

Louise: Yes, yes, we permanently have three 20 foot containers ready to go. So one is a purpose built wash and rinse container and the other two are more or less just lots of equipment ready to go. So yes, but it's designed to be able to put on a back of truck and get to anywhere with the New Zealand and start setting up within 24 hours. So it's a different way of looking at it, but you know New Zealand doesn't have the population to have set up facilities the entire length of its country. So this is the way that we feel is the best to be organised and ready to go.  

Paul: We're obviously here to talk a bit about GOWRS which is very much built on international collaboration and obviously you have this strong capability in New Zealand. But that Rena spill was also an example where you tapped into that international community to some extent as well, right? Obviously just some of the expertise that's out there just to provide some additional resources for your team through that response, 

Louise: Absolutely. Yep. I mean we were very lucky to be able to get Mike Ziccardi from OWCN and Barbara Callahan from IBR [International Bird Rescue] and other experts from around the world to come and help us. I mean it looked like we were starting to have a few marine mammals which there's no facilities for or very few facilities in New Zealand to hold marine mammals. So, when that started to be an issue we thought we should get the experts of the world to come in and help us. But also, Barbara's expertise in the IMS and Mike's expertise to do just about anything in a spill was really helpful. It helped us incredibly through what was an incredibly long spill response in the end for such a small amount of oil. 

Paul: Well, congratulations on that response. As you say it was significant in terms of the size and incredibly successful with the response that you undertook. So, so thank you for that And I guess it is a good segueway into talking about GOWRS in relation to that work that Massey University has done working with that global community over the years. And I think it was not long after the Rena that the GOWRS project actually was initiated in its sort of first two years of funding. So we've talked a bit about that with the different partners and the work that's been achieved through the project itself. From your point of view, what do you see as some of the most significant outcomes of that work together over the years as a group of organisations under that GOWRS banner? 

Louise: It would definitely be the collaboration and the collaboration that's led to, you know, not only really positive global outputs like the Ipieca Guides, but also the collaboration within the organisations, the ability to cross train, the ability to understand each other's processes and protocols, even just to the level of understanding each other within the organisations. I think that's one of the really important things of my job is that I need to get out there and meet all the people that I'm going to be working with in a response. Because having that understanding of who they are and how they operate in normal day lives is really beneficial and what you need to understand how they're going to operate in a response. And I think that's the best part about GOWRS, is our ability to meet each other, work which each other, exercise with each other. And so we know how we're going to operate in a response and that's a really important thing. 

Paul: Very well said and obviously since then and in the last year or two, GOWRS has transitioned into actually now being an operational service integrated into our OSRL services. What does that transition mean for Wildbase? What are the main significances of this now becoming a service I guess for Wildbase as an organisation? And also what does it mean for wildlife response preparedness in general?  

Louise: I think there's you know there's a small scale response to that question and larger scale response to that question. I think for us again that increased collaboration between the organisations to continuously move further and further to being prepared for that response means that we have the ability to communicate more and reach out across the organisations for learning and get more of an understanding again how we work together. But you know who has those specialities and all those sorts of things when it comes to working together. I mean for Wildbase and for me personally, I’m a marine mammal scientist that's my background and there are not many others within GOWRS that have that marine mammal specialty. So for me to put my thinking cap on globally about what happens with marine mammals if we have a spill response and what we're recommending for oiled wildlife response. I think those are the two things for me personally and then for Wildbase. 

Paul: And then in terms of wildlife response preparedness, what difference does it make or will it make to have that GOWRS assessment team available as a mobilisable service? 

Louise:  I think I mean globally it's incredibly important it's you know the ability to reach out and be available to help a country you know, understand what might be needed for an oiled wildlife response. I think also collectively it's giving us a bigger voice for companies and countries to understand how a response needs to be run and how. You know we are a Tier three response level, but actually you know the Tier one and Tier two response is also needed within a country. And hopefully, you know, we can work with organisations and industry and countries not only in a spill but outside of a spill to help encourage their Tier one and Tier 2 level organisation and training within countries as well. And I see there is an incredibly important part of our service. 

Paul: Yeah, it's an important point that it's yes, it's a service in an emergency but that hopefully it's also a catalyst, for as you say companies, countries to tap into that expertise and help to support that investment in country. And as we started off talking about New Zealand is obviously a very well-prepared place and but there's many parts of the world which, don't have that sort of structure or I suppose focus on the topic. And so hopefully as you say it's an ability to support those areas of the world in a response but also to help move their levels of preparedness forward as well. Well, as I mentioned, we've been interviewing all the different GOWRS partners and so the next partner organisation that I'll speak to is the Wildlife Rescue Centre of Ostend. And I know before you just spoke about the value of the collaboration and the fact that ultimately through the project each of the GOWRS partners, I believe, have had the chance to actually visit each other's facilities and understand a bit more about how each other operates. So, I wonder if you can just share a little bit about Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend by way of introduction to my interview with them. 

Louise:  Thank you, Paul. I'd love to. Yeah. It’s been really interesting to work across the globe and certainly you can't get much further across the globe from New Zealand to Belgium. So that's a good start. And Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend. Yeah, we've been to their facilities and seen how they set up. I mean they're really known for two spills that they have responded to. So the Tricolor spill in 2002 in Belgium and then recently in 2018 the Rotterdam Harbour Spill in The Netherlands. They are a bit like us they have a permanent facility but then they actually also have the ability to set up a mobile facility in spills like in the Rotterdam spill [where they supported the Dutch response to the incident] and they've shown that they work collaboratively you know for the Rotterdam spill they bought in other GOWRS partners like the UK, RSPCA and Focus Wildlife from Canada and they show themselves to be incredibly competent oiled wildlife team working across huge numbers of animals like even within their facility within one year. You know they can do thousands of animals which is an incredible feat but it's all part of that preparedness and training for oiled wildlife response and they're an invaluable member of the GOWRS team. 

Paul: Fantastic. Thanks Louise. And I guess you'll be seeing them soon because you're getting ready to head to the next GOWRS in-person meeting which I know is always a precious opportunity to actually be in the same time zone and to be meeting and your next meeting is coming up next week I believe? 

Louise:  Yes. Next week in Anacortes near Seattle hosted by Focus Wildlife.So yes looking forward to it and as you say being on the same time zone. So I'm not up at 6:00 in the morning and others are still awake at 9:00 at night Is quite useful.  

Paul: Absolutely, yes it makes a real difference. Great. Well, anything else you want to say before we close?  

Louise:  No. Thank you Paul for giving us this opportunity and you know encouraging and exposing their GOWRS service and letting them know what it's about because it's a really important global service and global collaboration. So thank you. 

Paul: Great. Thanks Louise. Thank you as well. And yes, best of luck next week. And  I'll look forward to speaking with Claude Velter from Wildlife Rescue Centre of Ostend in the next interview. But for now, all the best. Thanks very much. 

Louise:  Thanks, Paul. 


Learn more about Wildbase here.