New treatment unit for oiled birds ready on standby
Ministry of the Environment, Finnish Environment Institute and WWF Finland
A new unit for treating birds contaminated by oil spills was ceremonially opened today by Finnish Minister of the Environment Paula Lehtomäki, making Finland a pioneer in the provision of such facilities.
The new unit, based in the town of Porvoo on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It will greatly improve the prospects for the rapid treatment of oiled birds, as part of wide-ranging improvements in the international capacity for dealing with oil pollution in the Baltic Sea.
The unit is housed in three containers, which can be quickly transported by road or sea to the location of an oil spill to provide vital first aid for birds in distress. The unit has the capacity to treat up to 150 birds a day. It has been designed by a group of experts from the Finnish Environment Institute, Eastern Uusimaa Rescue Services and WWF Finland, with the help of veterinary specialists and ornithologists. The washing, drying and treatment equipment have been fitted into the containers by the Finnish company Oy Morehouse Ltd.
The unit will be based on the premises of Eastern Uusimaa Rescue Services, whose staff have been trained to ensure that it is permanently ready to be rapidly transported to nearest suitable base for coping with any oil spill. Training for volunteer workers on how birds should be handled, cleaned and dried has been provided by WWF Finland in collaboration with the Finnish Environment Institute and Eastern Uusimaa Rescue Services. Listed volunteers will be called up to assist the authorities in cleaning up after any serious oil spill.
Facilities for washing, drying and medical care
One of the three containers is fitted for veterinary care; the second has cleaning facilities; and the third contains drying equipment. During emergencies when many birds need treatment, birds will be prioritised according to the rarity of their species as well as their condition. A veterinary specialist will examine birds in the initial treatment unit. Treatment will be provided for as many birds as possible with a reasonable chance of survival. All oiled birds will be brought from the accident scene to the treatment unit, but after a preliminary examination some birds may be humanely killed to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Oil can dissolve the insulating fatty coating that protects water-birds’ skin, often resulting in hypothermia and death. Birds are kept warm throughout treatment, and given water and food as necessary. Before being released they are transferred from the containers into an outdoor enclosure where their condition will be assessed. Individual birds may be treated for as long as two weeks.
The Finnish Environment Institute has overall responsibility for responses to significant oil spills in Finnish waters, including the treatment of oiled birds. The regional rescue services deal with minor spills in their respective areas. Whenever the new bird treatment unit is needed, Eastern Uusimaa Rescue Services will arrange its transportation and check its readiness for use. Volunteers registered with WWF Finland will be contacted by the Finnish Environment Institute and asked to help look after any oiled birds for the duration of their treatment.
The Finnish Environment Institute runs a round-the-clock alert service to deal with environmental emergencies. In the event of an oil spill at sea, SYKE’s duty officer will call in a bird expert to assist oil spill response personnel by initiating the necessary rescue work.
The new unit has cost a total of some 150,000 euros. Most of these funds (€125,000) have been provided from the national Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. This fund, which can also be used to support measures to combat pollution, is accumulated from fees paid for all shipments of oil or petrochemicals arriving in or passing through Finland. An additional sum of €7,500 was provided for veterinary equipment from Ministry of the Environment funds.
Since the turn of the millennium there have already been serious oil spills at sea off France, Spain, Australia, South Africa and Britain. In the Baltic, birds have been affected by oil spills particularly in Estonian and Swedish waters.
No specially designed units have previously existed for treating oiled birds. Facilities have so far always had to be improvised in buildings such as schools or sports halls. Treating birds rapidly can often save their lives. The transportability of the new container units guarantees the promptest possible response. They can also be quickly moved to assist with spills in Finland’s neighbouring countries around the Baltic or even further afield.
The new Finnish facilities have already attracted interest from several European countries, USA and Brazil.
For more information:
Bird treatment units:
Timo Asanti, Chief Inspector, Finnish Environment Institute,
tel. +358 40 740 1597, firstname.lastname@example.org
Olavi Liljemark, Rescue Director, Eastern Uusimaa Rescue Services,
tel. +358 40 526 4870, email@example.com
Merja Huhtala, Secretary General, Finnish Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 400 143 907, firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer workers scheme:
Timo Tanninen, CEO, WWF Finland,
tel. +358 40 574 9266; email@example.com
Ulla Ahonen, Communications Officer, Ministry of the Environment,
tel. +358 50 524 526, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sirpa Pellinen, Information Officer, Finnish Environment Institute,
tel. +358 40 740 2754; email@example.com