12 June 2012

How to respond to oil spills in Singapore?

Today I visited an exhibition site set up to deal with wildlife affected by an oil spill. Conducted by the Oil Spill Response team, thanks to the invitation forwarded by N. Sivasothi of International Coastal Cleanup Singapore.
The set up was of a "Temporary oiled wildlife facility" showcasing "first strike wildlife equipment".

Yei Ling was at the site to kindly show me around. Here is one station for weighing oiled animals.
But we started earlier with the first station featuring special gear provided to protect people who work with oil spills. This includes white covering for the entire body.
A closer look at the gloves and boots needed to protect people when dealing with crude oil.
There's a station for the vet to check on the animals.
With all kinds of equipment and supplies.
Also a station to wash and dry the animals.
Another station to prepare food and to feed (usually force feed) the animals.
Nearby, temporary pools and cages to house rescued animals after they have been treated.
There's a photo of penguins in the pool.
Before leaving the site, a station where people can clean up and dispose of protective equipment properly.
Here's a diagram of the temporary set up.
All these equipment come in these two pallets which can be deployed quickly wherever they are needed.
NParks officers were also at the site to have a look at the set up.
While impressive, the set up is clearly more suitable for situations where a lot of seabirds are affected. For Singapore, we are unlikely to face this situation.

Oil Spill Response is a non-profit company which provides "resources to respond to oil spills efficiently and effectively on a global basis" to members which are mainly oil companies. Their services can only be activated by the oil spiller.

The exhibition was set up on East Coast Park, the site of a major oil spill in May 2010. Today, all is clean and blue with kids playing on the seashore. But in Singapore, big ships are never far away from the shore.
How did our shores cope with the May 2010 oil spill?
Since the spill, I have been visiting Tanah Merah every month. The crude was never removed from these shores and still remain there to this day beneath the sand. But there's still lots of marine life there, and the coral reef that settled naturally at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal are still alive.

In my opinion, I feel it is more important to do what is best for the marine life and shores, and not just do what makes us feel better. We should try not to initiate a response that may worsen the impact of the oil spill. Dispersants applied in huge quantities means adding more chemicals to the water, adding more stress to marine life. Well-meaning volunteers may put themselves and marine life at risk unless there is a good understanding of the situation. Attempting to wash and clean delicate animals and invertebrates just adds further stress to them and may kill them. Relocating them to our other shores introduces imbalances to those other shores. Most of the organisms that form the foundation of our marine ecosystems, like seagrasses and corals, are immobile.

Good response requires sound and timely information, about the actual situation on our shores, the oil spill itself and good coordination among parties involved.

There were studies done on Tanah Merah, and possibly elsewhere, following the May 2010 oil spill. These should provide information that can guide us towards a better response to oil spills and their impact on our marine life. But the results of these studies have yet to be made public.

International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, ACRES and wildsingapore have been working on a proposed plan to manage volunteer response during an oil spill. Details will hopefully be published soon.

Related posts
Latest updates on oil spills in Singapore on the May 2010 oil spill facebook page

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