Over fifty delegates attended the ARCOPOL conference discussing the creation of co-ordinated marine pollution response strategies across Europe recently (7th September 2009) at the Marine Institute headquarters in Galway.
ARCOPOL (the Atlantic Regions’ Coastal Pollution Response) – a successor to the Emergency Response to coastal oil, Chemical and Inert Pollution from Shipping (EROCIPS) project - is a sustainable Atlantic network of experts supported by sufficient information, data exchange and management tools to advise on any spill of oil, hazardous and noxious substances (HNS) or even inert material. This new project will not only incorporate the outputs of previous projects into strategic, national, regional and even local response plans to deal with marine spills, but also improve response capabilities in the event of toxic and inert spills, improve the level of awareness and training of potential responders to incidents and increase the degree of stakeholder involvement.
During the conference, Arcopol project partners from across the Atlantic Area shared their experiences with Irish delegates from local authorities, ports and harbour authorities, research institutes, business and NGOs such as Coastwatch and the Irish Seal Sanctuary. There was a general consensus on the importance of advance contingency planning with co-operation across county and country borders, to ensure that pollution incidents are dealt with as efficiently and effectively as possible - regardless of where the spill originates. “An important aim of ARCOPOL is to further encourage cross-border collaboration between neighbouring countries in response to a spill,” said Michael Gillooly, Director of Ocean Science Services at the Marine Institute. “Marine pollution is a transnational issue. Even if a spill originates in international waters, sooner or later it is likely to affect the coastline of several member states.”
CETMAR Spain, Arcopol lead partner, opened the workshop with an overview of EROCIPS and detailed how Arcopol will build on this expertise by incorporating pollution response methodologies to HNS as well as oil. The objective is to develop common, transnational methodologies, tools and techniques which can be applied anywhere across the Atlantic coastline to deal with shoreline response to coastal pollution, where oil or HNS.
Effective communication is a major component of Arcopol, so project partners will work together to ensure that all project outputs and tools are disseminated to first line pollution responders across the Atlantic area. To achieve this aim, Arcopol are creating a central database of stakeholders involved in pollution response management across the Atlantic seaboard. If you would like your organisation to be included in this database, please contact pauline [dot] nifhlatharta [at] marine [dot] ie.
The session on response to HNS spills was led by project partners from France, the UK and Portugal. All presentations highlighted the importance of the development of methodologies for environmental and human health monitoring, and these areas will be further developed during the Arcopol project.
Response modelling tools were also discussed, in particular MeteoGalicia Spain’s use of drifter buoys to project the path of oil spills. The Marine Institute Ireland’s use of operational models to accurately predict oil drift also demonstrated how effective computer modelling can be for pollution response, referring in particular to the case of the Russian aircraft carrier incident off the south-west coast of Cork earlier this year (February 2009). “Such tools are inevitably going to be of use again in the future,” said Marcel Cure, one of the Irish modellers working on ARCOPOL, “since the vast bulk of the world’s oil and other chemicals is transported by sea, and the sea is one of the world’s harshest environments. We cannot completely prevent spills from happening. But we can predict what will happen when they do, and we can prepare for that eventuality with far better information at our disposal than even before.”
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) demonstrated their GIS coastal planning systems, developed during their participation in the EROCIPS project. NIEA actively use these systems to enhance sensitivity mapping of coastal areas, and as a tool to estimate potential impacts of pollution to incorporate into their contingency plans. The Irish Coastguard, who lead Ireland’s response to oil and HNS pollution incidents at a national level, spoke about their role in pollution prevention, preparedness and response.
The Irish Coastguard also work with local, port and harbour authorities to respond to local incidents within their jurisdictions. The Shannon Anti-Pollution Team detailed their extensive plans for the Shannon Estuary, outlining resources available in terms of pre-planning and onsite incident management.
The open discussion forum at the end of the day further highlighted the commonalities facing organisations across the Atlantic area involved in pollution response. The development of standard tools and methods by Arcopol was welcomed, and it was agreed that effort should be focused on ensuring this information is disseminated to the correct audience. The role of the public and NGOs in pollution response was discussed, and it was agreed that ecologists have a role to play in the planning stages of contingency planning, both at a national and local level. This will require further discussion between the various parties to discuss the role of NGOs, the flow of public information, and how public participation can help during a pollution incident.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR:
The conference, funded under the EU Interreg IVB Atlantique programme, was held under the auspices of ARCOPOL project in which the Marine Institute is a participant.
ARCOPOL will be developed by a consortium of partners from five countries in the Atlantic area and supported by an Advisory Body comprised of key authorities, experts and industry delegates, which include the Irish Coast Guard. It will also seek the involvement of relevant stakeholders and organisations in the creation of a sustainable network of experts on spill and HNS response in the Atlantic Area.