Operation Black Water in
Triumphs in the Name of Sea Life Cuba
Field report by Daniel Vairo, Director, Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil.
Map of Loop Current in the
Gulf of Mexico.
Click to enlarge
During the past week a team of oiled wildlife rescue technicians from Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil (ISSB) carried out in Cuba's northern coast a campaign to exchange oil spill information with local community leaders and academics.
What was supposed to have been an overt operation of collaboration between the independent South American arm of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) and Cuban institutions, ended up becoming somewhat of an underground operation due to restrictions imposed by the Castro regime on issues related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Knowledge that ISSB’s bid to work in conjunction with Cuban institutions had been denied by the Ministry of the Environment came to us on the very same day our team departed to Havana. But as the saying goes showing up is 90% of success.
Wendell Estol from ISSB introduced Sea Shepherd to Cuban collaborators during one of the meetings. The meetings were done in the homes of community leaders and away from public spotlight due to the prohibition on the exchange of information regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
I believe the feeling that best sums up what was happened in Cuba was what one person, whose name I prefer to maintain anonymous, told me:
“I want to help, not as a representative of the organization that I work for, but as an individual. I fear harassment, even political persecution but I want to do it for the animals.”
Consequently, because of this universal desire that transcends any kind of political system from July 5th to the 9th members of Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil and the Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (CIM) of the University of Havana, Instituto de Oceanologia, the Cuban NGO ProNaturaleza and community leaders of the traditional fishing village of Cojimar met to exchange experiences on how to mobilize and train coastal communities aiming at the prevention and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife threatened by oil spills.
ISSB’s initiative to fly a team of highly experience oiled wildlife rescue technicians to Havana came after it had heard that the current British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had entered the Loop Current and was threatening the northern coast of Cuba. Cuba is home to a superb environment, including two World Heritage Sites, eight Biosphere Reserves in addition to the largest and best preserved wetland in the Caribbean islands.
The deliberations lasted for 20 hours in which 15 representatives of the above mentioned institutions participated. The knowledge exchanged was valuable to all parties, while Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil’s contributions were unique to the Cuban collaborators.
The Cuban institutions shared their knowledge on the removal of contaminated material and emergency preparedness – all training provided to them by Hugo Chavez’s Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). However none of them ever have had available to them information on oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, ISSB’s specialty.
The Cuban collaborators received detailed protocols and demonstrations from ISSB’s technicians on several subjects such as safety considerations for the rescue and rehabilitation teams and for the animals; how to attend to a stranding or rescue; and first response actions with the animals. With this newly acquired knowledge, the participants can now multiply these techniques to their communities and develop their own protocols for effective oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
ISSB’s objective was met, Sea Shepherd’s imprint was left in Cuba and people there are now more competent than before to act to save wildlife affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Most importantly we helped democratize and exchange knowledge that should be at everyone’s reach in order to help defend and protect ourselves and sea life from the horrors of oil spills.
First Volunteer Network
Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil has been working since 1999 with technicians from governmental and non-governmental organizations, universities and traditional fishing communities to form the First Volunteer Network able to act and save oiled wildlife. In 11 years ISSB has trained three thousand volunteers in 11 states of the extensive Brazilian coast and numerous organizations have been equipped by the NGO with rescue equipment to save oiled wildlife. Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil’s protocols are based on training and protocols received by California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network, International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
In 2000 ISSB assisted in the recovery activities of the Guanabara Bay affected by the spill of more than 2,500 tons of oil by Petrobras. The NGO in this occasion was responsible for creating a plan to save dolphins during oil spills in Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro. In 2002, the Galapagos National Park and the Department of Conservation in Costa Rica, hosted ISSB technicians to carry out the training project "How to save oiled marine wildlife".
Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil’s initiative remains unique, reflecting very positively worldwide and encouraging communities and volunteers to take part of effective conservation of marine wildlife. The training project "How to save oiled marine wildlife" was the only project selected for the Tunza Youth Conference II, Bangalore / India, promoted by UNEP / UN in October 2005.
Wendell Estol from ISSB introduces
Sea Shepherd to Cuban collaborators during one of
the meetings. The meetings were done in the homes
of community leaders and away from public spotlight
due to the prohibition on the exchange of information
regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
From left to right, Handy Acosta, Wendell Estol
and Angel Valdez. The representatives from the
Cuban NGO ProNaturaleza, which operates
in conjunction with the Federal Government
on the entire island, were indispensable
in guiding Wendell and ISSB's team
during the operation in Cuba.
Sebastian Diano, sporting Che Guevara's
military hat, preparing for a days work.
Diano joined ISSB's team from Uruguay.
Park rangers in Galapagos in 2002 receives
ISSB's training on how to save oiled wildlife.
Credit for all photos goes to: Instituto Sea Shepherd Brasil