This past week I attended the 11th International Effects of Oil on Wildlife conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. This conference was attended by a variety of professionals including government agencies, wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, biologists, researchers and oil response companies. (Generous donations to Le Nichoir’s Staff Education Fund allowed me to participate).

With oil spills occurring more frequently around the globe, I attended this symposium to acquire a better understanding of what is required to respond to oil spills and to determine where Le Nichoir would fit in if and when a spill occurred in Quebec. Sadly, oil spills happen every day and it is likely that the Centre will participate in this type of response at some point.

The conference not only addressed topics such as the steps and protocols needed to respond to oil spills, but many presenters spoke of the current research that is being done to see the physical effects oil is having on wildlife and the surrounding environment. Presentations were also given on how to organize and manage volunteers during a crisis, and the planning and decision making needed to deploying an emergency response centre.

It caught my attention that responders are focusing their efforts more and more on animal welfare and the psychological effects response efforts have on animals. Responders are learning that these factors play a large role in the survival rate of oiled wildlife. Speakers emphasized the importance housing, enrichment and diet play in reducing the animal’s stress and increasing its chance of surviving in the wild. Examples and descriptions were given so that the participants could apply the knowledge to their own centres in emergency and non-emergency situations.

The conference allowed both experienced and unexperienced individuals to share ideas and to discuss methods of response to small and large-scale oil spills and other emergency situations. Because of this conference oil spill responders from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, United States, Canada and as far as Singapore networked together with the ultimate goal of saving wildlife in distress as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Networking and attending these types of events is crucial to preparing for the unprepared. I am confident that participating in the oil spill response course by International Bird Rescue in November 2011 and by attending this conference, Le Nichoir has the knowledge to be able to participate in an emergency response team to help save oiled wildlife should an oil spill occur in Quebec.