The Wildlife Preparedness & Response Community of Practice (CoP) - a collaborative multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at strengthening tiered preparedness for oiled wildlife incidents - organised its first-ever virtual wildlife response exercise this month to explore the potential challenges in a transboundary oiled wildlife incident. It marked another milestone for the multi-stakeholder forum that, while still an informal gathering place, has been meeting, growing, and practicing together as a community of responders for the past few years.
Wildlife response is a critical aspect of oil spill preparedness and response, and one where collaboration with key stakeholders and leading expert organisations is vital.
As oiled wildlife preparedness and response became increasingly recognised at an international level, key industry, governmental and non-governmental stakeholders came together at a meeting at Interspill 2012 in London, hosted by OSRL and Sea Alarm, to discuss the “Future of Global Oiled Wildlife Response and Preparedness.” This meeting served as a catalyst for the multi-year Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project that ran between 2015-2021. The GOWRS Project included Aiuká (Brazil & Peru), Focus Wildlife International (U.S.A. & Canada), International Bird Rescue (U.S.A.), Oiled Wildlife Care Network/UC Davis (OWCN) (U.S.A.), Dachverband PRO BIRD e.V. (Germany), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (U.K.), the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (U.S.A.), WILDBASE/Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend (Belgium). An Industry Advisory Group (IAG) was also formed to support the project and provide an interface with oil industry funders and end-users.
Collaboration between industry stakeholders has continued to evolve since then, also encouraged by the fact that ‘oiled wildlife response’ was recognised by Ipieca as one of the fifteen priority targets for strengthening tiered response preparedness and should be integrated at all levels. In 2019, industry delegates participated in an Ipieca-funded workshop in Cyprus facilitated by Sea Alarm and some of the GOWRS Project Partners to map the journey of implementing that target.
To carry forward the recommended approach to preparedness from this workshop (see Figure 1) , and to support the operational integration of the new Tier 3 Oiled Wildlife Assessment Service from the GOWRS Network, the Wildlife Preparedness and Response ‘Community of Practice’ was formed out of the IAG – to build on the momentum from the Cyprus gathering - and has been meeting quarterly since early 2021. The group aims to share experiences and lessons learned, to support and drive implementation, and to continue nurturing strong collaboration across the industry and beyond.
Community of Practice (CoP) meetings usually take the form of presentations and open discussions on oiled wildlife preparedness and response case studies. However, the September 2023 meeting of the Wildlife Preparedness & Response CoP saw a first attempt to utilise its quarterly gatherings for a discussion-based virtual exercise to simulate and explore potential challenges and response options in a transboundary oiled wildlife incident requiring international (Tier 3) resources. Having exercises that are wildlife-focused is essential to understand and address the complexities that may arise during a wildlife response.
For this exercise, a small planning team (including representatives from OSRL, ITOPF, AMOSC, Petrobras, ExxonMobil, and GOWRS Partners Aiuká and SANCCOB) designed a virtual discussion-based exercise around a fictitious incident in the Brazilian Equatorial Margin in Northern Brazil with potential to impact wildlife in multiple countries including Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana.
The objectives set for the exercise were:
- To better understand how to activate Tier 3 specialists (e.g., Sea Alarm and GOWRS) and their role in a response via a discussion-based virtual exercise;
- To explore and understand planning challenges and priorities in a large-scale, transboundary oiled wildlife incident; and
- To prototype using the Community of Practice Forum as a virtual exercise environment and to gain feedback to inform future exercise activities.
A number of break-out groups were created, each acting as an initial Wildlife Planning team for the responsible party. Each group also included at least one individual from both Sea Alarm and from GOWRS representing their organisations to simulate the initial call following a mobilisation request to OSRL by the responsible party (an OSRL Member).
Over thirty people from a wide range of stakeholders participated in the session and the feedback from participants was extremely positive. Not only did the discussion help improve the understanding of the role of Tier 3 wildlife response organisations in providing an initial assessment, but it also helped to reinforce the value of a proactive approach to wildlife response in the event of an incident. The exercise also highlighted the complexities in a wildlife response and the importance of pre-incident planning and preparedness efforts (following the preparedness wheel model). Without effective pre-planning, the feasible response options may be limited significantly.
The CoP Exercise Planning Team is now gathering feedback from everyone involved. The hope is that a virtual exercise can be organised at least annually with the intention of focussing on various aspects of wildlife response and looking at different geographical locations and challenges. The Community of Practice also hopes to consider other virtual and in-person activities in the future to grow the group of collaborators and to continue supporting the implementation of a good practice approach to wildlife response preparedness in the years to come.
The CoP is co-chaired by Rich Davi (ExxonMobil) and Anne-Laure Szymanski (Equinor) with OSRL hosting the virtual meetings and facilitating the group as an informal secretariat. It is regularly attended by a number of OSRL/Ipieca Member companies as well Sea Alarm, the GOWRS partner organisations, and other interested parties including Ipieca, IOPC Funds, ITOPF, NOFO, and AMOSC.
Interested in joining the Wildlife Preparedness & Response Community of Practice? Contact us here