An Olive Ridley sea turtle is one of the species that may be affected by an oil spill in Brunei. Image courtesy of Thangaraj Kumaravel.

Oiled wildlife response expertise goes to Brunei

Members of the oiled wildlife response workshop including leaders
Dr Graeme Finlayson (fourth from right) and Ms Bridey White
(seventh from right).

Wildlife in Brunei may soon benefit from New Zealand expertise in treating animals affected by oil spills through training developed and presented by Massey University scientists.

Dr Graeme Finlayson and Bridey White of the university’s Wildbase Oil Response Team have just returned from a trip to Brunei where they conducted a management and rehabilitation training course. In collaboration with Spillconsult, the duo trained members of government (wildlife, fisheries and forestry) and local not-for-profits, including BruWILD and Beach Bunch.

The four-day training course included a series of lectures, brainstorming workshops and scenario-based exercises. The course was the beginning of a plan by Brunei Shell Petroleum to develop capability for oiled wildlife response in the country – a much needed initiative as oil industry infrastructure and facilities are often found where wildlife, including endangered sea turtles, are found.

Ms White says this was an excellent starting point.

“We took the knowledge we have from managing disasters and treating wildlife here, like we did for the Rena disaster, to start discussions about how to apply them in Brunei. They have their own unique set of challenges to deal with, but the feeling was that they have a real drive to do something.”

Dr Finlayson says the next step is to identify local facilitites and train responders so Brunei is ready for any eventuality. He says connections with the local university are a great asset and may provide the human resources they need.

“The enthusiasm is there but, at the moment, the people on the ground need to be trained and aware of the sensitivities surrounding an oil spill. With the presence of the oil and gas industry, Brunei is very safety orientated – they advertise it as being one of the safest places in the world to visit. This trip was the first step in making it safe for wildlife as well.”

Brunei has around 130km of coastline with habitats ranging from sandy beaches, islands and coral reefs to river inlets, mangroves and mudflats. In the event of an oil spill, fauna like birds, turtles, saltwater crocodiles, dugongs and even proboscis monkeys may be affected.

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