2002 – Prestige Spill – Spain

Spain prepares for long Prestige oil spill clean-up, more birds to be released

Dozens of rehabilitated sea birds will be returned to the wild off the coast of Spain this week thanks to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Emergency Relief (ER) team. These latest releases cap a two-month wildlife rescue and rehabilitation effort by the IFAW ER team, which collaborated closely with local authorities in responding to one of the world’s worst-ever oil spills. As the tanker Prestige sank to the sea floor off the coast of Spain last November, environmentalists prepared for a spill worse than the Exxon Valdez. Concerns grew as affected wildlife – including rare and endangered sea birds – began appearing on the beaches covered thick with oil. At the request of SEO/Birdlife, the Spanish ornithological society, the IFAW ER team quickly deployed international experts from the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) and established a rescue and rehabilitation center in Pontevedra, Spain.

Released birds include gannets, shags, cormorants, razorbills, guillemots, storm petrels, scoters, Atlantic puffins, and several species of gulls. To date, the team has successfully treated, rehabilitated and released more than 180 birds back to the wild. “We are heartened by the release of these birds, but the long-term effects of this spill could last years,” said IFAW ER team member Barbara Callahan. “Two months after the Prestige went down oiled animals are still being found each day. Along with continuing rescue and rehabilitation, we are working to assist authorities to increase local capacity during oil spills and help develop contingency plans for future impact.”

For the past several weeks the IFAW ER team has been training local volunteers and responders to take over the Pontevedra center and prepare for more oiled wildlife. Xunta, the Spanish environmental authority, plans to continue the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals as well as the tedious process of cleaning the beaches affected by the spill.

“We are very grateful to the IFAW Emergency Relief team and the many concerned individuals who have come to Spain to assist these animals,” said Vicente Piorno, Xunta Coordinator for the Center. “The unique expertise IFAW has shared with us has made a critical difference and better prepared us to handle the tasks ahead. We very much look forward to further collaboration.”

Why we’re here

First rescued birds released back to the wild
The first oiled birds rescued from the Prestige tanker disaster in Spain were released back to the wild in Portugal today, by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW — www.ifaw.org ) and the Spanish environment authority Xunta. The birds had been cared for at the main wildlife rehabilitation center for the crisis, which is being run in Pontevedra, Spain by IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team. It was necessary to release the birds in Portugal as the oil spill, the worst in Spain’s history, has affected Spain’s entire northwest coastline. Twenty-two fully rehabilitated birds were transported seven hours by truck to Bahia de Setubal in Portugal, just outside of Lisbon, where they were released into one of Portugal’s national marine reserves. The released birds included razorbills, guillemots, puffins, loons, scoters and gulls. IFAW representatives at the release were joined by Xunta’s Director General for Natural Conservation, Francisco Bobadilla, and Portugal’s Director General of the National Institute for Nature Conservation, Carlos Albuquerque.

Since the start of the crisis three weeks ago, hundreds of birds have arrived at the center covered in oil and suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. The IFAW ER Team first stabilizes the birds with fluids and food fed by tube, and once they are strong enough they are washed and dried, before being put into recovery pools to regain their waterproofing. The center is currently caring for 334 birds. The IFAW ER Team in Pontevedra has vets and wildlife rehabilitation experts from eight countries around the world and about 50 local volunteers. Jay Holcomb, the IFAW ER Team Leader, said, “This is what we have been waiting for since the first birds arrived. It is at last some good news in what has been a wildlife tragedy.

“It has been difficult to find a location where the birds could be released because the whole of the coast in this part of Spain is getting oil washed ashore. In consultation with all the Spanish experts we have chosen this area of Portugal because it already has good colonies of birds and it is not too far for us to transport them.”

Spain volunteers to the rescue?

It is hoped that many more birds can be rescued from the hundreds of small oil patches now hitting the northwest coast of Spain as an army of 3,000 volunteers arrives to help over the national holiday weekend says the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). With hundreds of kilometers of coastline to cover it is hoped that the volunteers from all over Spain will make a significant difference to the success of the search and rescue operation. The original giant slick has now broken up into countless smaller ones and these are blanketing the National Maritime Atlantic Islands Park, which is home to tens of thousands of migrating and indigenous bird species.

“We have been very concerned that although we have had hundreds of birds come to the rehabilitation center we are running, that many thousands more are out there dying and have not be found up until now because of lack of people searching,” said Jay Holcomb, leader of IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team.

“Hopefully with this massive influx of volunteers things will improve. The oil patches are now all over this marine wildlife reserve park and coming ashore in big numbers much further south, which is the most sensitive area for the birds.”

IFAW’s ER Team in cooperation with the local wildlife authority Xunta has set up the rehab center at Pontevedra. It is manned by 15 veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitation experts, who have flown in from seven countries around the world. There are also about 50 local volunteers at the center every day. The center is currently caring for 288 birds, including razor bills, gannets, cormorants, kittiwakes, and rare species such as the yellow-legged gull that is only found in Galicia.

On November 15th, 2002, IFAW’s Emergency Relief (ER) Team joined local animal groups in efforts to rescue animals oiled by the stricken Prestige tanker off the north-west coast of Spain. The ER Team’s oiled wildlife experts have been called in to assist by SEO/Birdlife Spain (Spanish Society for Ornithology) as fears grow that thousands of birds could suffer effects from the slick that has already soiled 125 miles of Spanish coastline. The team is now working closely with regional wildlife authorities and WWF Spain IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team is managed cooperatively by IFAW and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), which brings over 30 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management who are professionals from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, UK and USA.

In 2000 the team jointly led the response to the Treasure oil spill in Cape Town, South Africa, with Sanccob, which was the largest of its kind. This required a three-month operation involving 12,000 volunteers and ultimately of the 20,000 oiled African penguins, 90% were released back into the wild. The IFAW ER Team has attended more than a dozen major oil spill wildlife disasters around the world in recent years. IFAW’s ER team now has such experience that it is recognized as having a global presence that supersedes other oiled wildlife response organizations. The team arrived in Spain November 21.

Media Contact

Nick Jenkins (IFAW) – UK Tel: 44 7799 883355; or 44 1634 830888; 44 (20) 7587 6733;
E-mail: njenkins@ifaw.org.
For more information visit www.ifaw.org