SANCCOB participates in preparedness exercise with stakeholders to sharpen response capabilities

SANCCOB’s conservation team spent an exciting week participating in a National Joint Government-Industry Exercise, a preparedness exercise organised by the Incident Management Organisation (IMOrg) from 12 to 13 May 2022. The exercise was code-named “Bank cormorant” as an acknowledgement to the high conservation status of this important seabird, endemic to South Africa and Namibia. Through the Incident Management System (IMS) training and a 2-day full oil spill deployment, South African stakeholders were tasked with testing their response capabilities in the event of a maritime pollution incident.  

Participants included the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), CapeNature, South African National Parks (SANParks), City of Cape Town, Robben Island Museum (RIM), NSRI, and South African Police Service, along with many other national governmental, industry and non-profit organisations. SANCCOB is mandated to respond to oil-affected seabirds as per the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) and were eager to participate in this simulated exercise, to sharpen our teams’ preparedness and response. 

Stakeholders were presented with a fictional scenario involving a vessel collision and subsequent oil spill in Table Bay, near Robben Island. The SANCCOB team had an early start with a short helicopter flight to Robben Island to conduct a wildlife field assessment, in conjunction with the Environmental Unit at RIM, gathering data on oil impacted species and numbers, to plan for an effective wildlife response.  

The field assessment targeted three priority areas of sensitivity; three teams of responders set out on foot and by boat to assess the impact on seabirds with emphasis on endangered species including African penguins, Cape cormorants and Bank cormorants. The team consisted of a Field Assessment Lead, an Oiled Wildlife Response Specialist, a Veterinarian, a Capture Specialist, and a Chick & Egg Specialist. Sightings of “oiled birds” were recorded and the team donned their personal protective equipment to simulate catching birds while also practicing deterrence methods to prevent unoiled seabirds entering the contaminated environment. The oil modelling trajectory showed that oil would impact the shoreline between Sunset Beach and Blouberg before moving towards Robben Island; SANCCOB volunteer responders deployed to conduct a shoreline field survey, searching for oil-affected seabirds. The exercise concluded with the RIM response team testing seabird transportation methods in poor weather conditions of >4metre sea swells. The original planned vessel support was aborted due to adverse weather conditions and a chopper was deployed to transport the response team with their simulated “oiled penguins”. 

Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Head of Conservation, says, “SANCCOB is proud to be involved in training exercises of this nature that will ultimately improve our response effectiveness and result in greater survival rates for affected seabirds. This exercise tested all aspects of response, including the need for effective communication, and the power of collaboration with all stakeholders working in the preparedness and response space.”