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Pauatahanui, Wellington, December 2012

The Pauatahanui inlet is a wetland, with an important saltmarsh, and is host to an important range of local and migratory birds. An oil spill in the area, which is close to a State Highway, could be potentially catastrophic for wildlife. It was the perfect place to hold an oil spill exercise in December, with key lessons learned for wildlife recovery in the region.

On Thursday 13 December 2012 an oil spill exercise was conducted at the Pauatahanui Inlet near Wellington. There were nearly 40 participants led by members of the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the National Oiled Wildlife Response Team.

NOWRT-exercise---Pautahanui_jpg.jpeg The location

The Pauatahanui inlet consists of a range of wetland vegetation, including an important salt marsh. The inlet hosts an array of local and migratory birds including Caspian tern, pied stilt, kingfisher, black shags and shorebirds such as bar-tailed godwits.

The scenario

The scenario was that 20 tonnes of diesel was released into the estuary from a truck following an accident on Grays Road.  The focus was  challenges associated with responding to wildlife during an oil spill at the inlet, including:

  • Which wildlife species would be at risk
  • How best to capture or haze (scare off) those species
  • Suitability of local facilities for temporary holding of captured animals

The response

After a morning briefing participants were split into teams.

Field teams conducted a thorough survey (by boat and by foot) to establish which species and numbers of birds were at risk of becoming oiled. This team also practised collecting oiled birds (plastic decoys). Any ‘casualties’ found were transferred to the temporary Oiled Wildlife Facility.

The Oiled Wildlife Team was based at Endeavour Park. Wildbase technician Pauline Conayne gave a presentation on the RENA oil spill event and discussed the real-life difficulties and considerations of an oiled wildlife response. Then the team set up bird intake, treatment and cleaning areas and holding pens.  Participants practised admitting the ‘oiled birds’ as they arrived, including conducting physical examinations and completing admission forms.

A third team of people set up the Incident Command Centre (ICC) at Stout Cottage. An 'Incident Action Plan' was prepared, sensitive habitat was identified and specific wildlife resource needs were discussed. This included liaison with potential local suppliers, such as sourcing food for fish-eating birds and local marquees hire.

Overall, the day was a great success: the weather was exceptional, several ‘birds’ were saved and the day was an excellent learning and networking experience for all involved. The key outcomes and lessons learned will be included in the Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan.