Submitted by Steve on 21:22, 15th Feb, 2017 | 0

Today marks 21 years since the Sea Empress disaster and next month on the 18th March marks 50 years since the Torrey Canyon disaster.

In 1996 GSPCA Shelter staff and volunteers were called on to help with one of the biggest oil disasters to hit the British shores.

When the Sea Empress ran a ground in Pembrokeshire on the 15th February over 72,000 tons of crude oil and 360 tons of heavy fuel poured into the sea in less than a week.

Tens of thousands of animals were effected and the RSPCA launched a massive rescue operation.

The GSPCA only a couple of years previously had constructed an oiled bird unit and our services were quickly volunteered to help with the rehabilitation work.  We are currently appealing for funds to help refurbish and make improvements to this facility that helps nearly 1000 wild animals and birds every year.

In 1996 60 ducks were flown over to Guernsey and Yvonne Chauvel with Chrissy who worked at the Shelter and volunteers Nadia and Joan started the grueling task to remove the crude oil from the birds.

For days the team of 4 worked through to midnight cleaning and medicating the birds which on entry the breed was unknown due to the extent of the oil.

Unfortunately 10 were lost during the process but 50 survived and spent some time at the Shelter whilst they regained their waterproof feathers.  When the oil had been removed they were identified as Common Scoters and during the disaster over 4,000 of this breed alone had been affected.

The Common Scoter is an all dark sea duck with the male being totally black and the female lighter, with a pale face. They are often seen as large bobbing rafts offshore, or long straggling lines flying along the coast. The UK breeding population of this small diving sea duck has substantially declined and believed to be around 100,000 around the UK in Winter and they are now a Red List species. Unfortunately its winter populations are vulnerable to oil spills and is why so many were affected by the Sea Empress.

At the GSPCA we occasionally help Common Scoters but it is rare for them to be rescued sick or injured in Guernsey.

Every year the GSPCA oiled bird team from 1996 meets up for a Christmas meal and this year Yvonne who still works at the Shelter surprised the group of friends with a special treat of a Common Scoter release.

Yvonne Chauvel Senior Animal Care Assistant still works at the GSPCA and said  “The disaster and care of the Sea Empress oiled birds 21 years ago brought us all together and we are all still the best of friends and meet up when we can.”

“A few years ago we all met up to release a Common Scoter we rescued called Marieta.”

“At the GSPCA we still get oiled birds each month and with the recent rough winter weather we have had a number of oiled guilemots some of which are still in our care.”

“It was really hard back in 1996 and very upsetting as those poor birds were all on death's door, but we were amazed when we saved so many of them.”

“It's what we do the job for, it's always lovely to see the wildlife back into their natural habitat.”

Steve Byrne GSPCA Manager said “It’s amazing that it’s been 21 years since the Sea Empress disaster and next year will be the 50th anniversary since the Torey Canyon disaster which devastated the local wildlife in Guernsey.”

“This week we are celebrating 144 years helping animals in Guernsey and without the work we’ve carried out then 1000’s of oiled birds wouldn’t have made it back to the wild over the years.”

“We are currently appealing for funds to refurbish our wildlife unit and to find out more please visit - .”

If you find an oiled bird please call the GSPCA on 01481 257261 or bring along to the Shelter where we have the facilities, staff and volunteers to rehabilitate and release injured wildlife.

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