Heubeck, M., Camphuysen, K.C.J., Bao, R., Humple, D., Rey, A.S., Cadiou, B., Brager, S., and Thomas, T. Assessing the impact of major oil spills on seabird populations. Marine Pollution Bulletin 46(7): 900-902, 2003.
This paper provides a list of four fundamental steps that are required for adequate assessment of the impact of a major oil spill. These are:
"a systematic beach search effort which should be sustained for the duration of the spill"
This was done, but given the distance of the Terra Nova spill from land (c. 300 km), the appropriateness of beach surveys is questionable in this case. In the case of an offshore oil spill such as the Nov 21, 2004 Terra Nova spill, the appropriate response is ship-based surveys to detect and count oiled and un-oiled seabirds (and experimentally released drift blocks) in the spill zone, starting on the day of the spill - this was NOT done (see below).
"a facility to examine dead birds needs to be established as soon as possible (after the spill)"
This was done, but among 409 carcasses recovered on Avalon Peninsula beaches immediately after the spill, "about 25" (the exact number is apparently unknown) were tested and showed traces of bildge oil (not crude oil from Terra Nova). Interestingly, Environment Canada made an immediate statement to the press, that none of the beached birds had Terra Nova oil on them, after the initial testing of the small sample of corpses. However, the origin of the oil on the other c. 384 carcasses remains UNKNOWN and all were disposed of by Environment Canada with no possibility for further testing, effectively destroying the majority of the evidence. l. Because no systematic and timely effort was made to recover carcasses at sea, only a few carasses directly attributed to the spill were examined.
"preliminary analyses of results should be reported regularly (ideally on a dedicated website), so that an overview of the potential impact on seabird populations can be assessed by all involved and interested in the event: government agencies, NGOs, journalists, scientists, seabird rescue workers, cleanup teams, and others"
This was NOT done, leading to widespread ignorance and confusion about many aspects of the Terra Nova oil spill.
"permission should be obtained from authorities for experienced ornithologists to have access to aircraft and boats involved in the spill response plan for the purpose of conducting surveys of seabirds at sea. Drift experiments, using tagged corpses or wood blocks released from these planes or boats, should be conducted to assess the trajectory of corpses, the loss rate at sea, and the recovery rate on beaches"
This was NOT done in a timely or efficient manner. Six days after the spill, after brief daily surveillance flights, the first biologist arrived at the spill scene to carry out ship-based seabird surveys - these lasted two days and were the only surface assessment of the Terra Nova oil spill's effects on wildlife. Although drift blocks were apparently released (two days after the spill), no attempt was made to recover these at sea. Given the distance of the Terra Nova spill from land (c. 300 km), the appropriateness of beach recovery rate of drift blocks is questionable in this case. The appropriate response to an offshore oil spill such as that at Terra Nova is immediate offshore deployment, search and recovery of drift blocks to allow a seabird mortality estimate (NOT done).
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