Submitted by GSPCA on 12:33, 24th Apr, 2013 | 0

In an unprecedented joint letter Channel Island Wildlife and Welfare organisations are calling on politicians representing the environment in the 3 main islands to lobby the UK parliament to help prevent future catastrophic discharges of the chemical polyisobutene (PIB). 

Latest figures made available by representatives of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) suggest that the scale of the disaster, now affecting 21 species of seabirds, is much greater than previously announced with mortalities recorded being possibly as high as 2,000 birds; it is likely, therefore, that the number of birds actually contaminated with PIB will have been significantly larger. 

The first bird known to have bred in the Channel Islands, a Northern Gannet rung on Les Etacs colony, has also been discovered amongst the dead.  However, the number of birds with rings discovered so far is much lower than in previous incidents.  This, coupled with a study of biometric markers, suggests that the birds affected probably come from southern British and Northern European waters, colonies.  The Channel populations tend to be smaller in size than colonies further north and therefore may well be extremely serious damaged by the scale of this disaster and may take years to re-establish.

Under the MARPOL Convention (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), it is legal (with conditions) to discharge PIB when ships wash out their tanks.  PIB is listed under ‘MARPOL Annex II, category Z of noxious liquid substances in bulk: substances presenting a minor hazard to either marine resources or human health and therefore justifying less stringent restrictions* on the quality and quantity of the discharge into the marine environment’.  Yet there have been a number of significant incidents of PIB fouling over the last 20 years**, prior to this latest tragedy, with the mortality in Channel waters in 2013 alone being somewhere between 2500 and3000 birds.

Currently none of the Channel Islands are full members of the MARPOL convention and therefore are not able to ask for PIB’s status to be reviewed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) directly.

In total 7 Channel Island NGO’s have made this call in a unique display of cross island co-operation, building on a similar letter sent to The Rt. Hon Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, by the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and RSPCA on the 18th April  requesting that PIB be reclassified under the MARPOL Convention. 

Roland Gauvain Manager of the Alderney Wildlife Trust said:

'It is all too easy for us to see this as someone else’s tragedy, as we do not have to see these incredibly disturbing sights on our shores and can turn off the television when they are shown.  But these images include birds that have been hatched, reared and may well have been returning to breed on our islands.'

'The shipping lanes in which these discharges of PIB are believed to have taken place are to all intents and purposes immediately next door and, with our tides, 12 miles is no distance at all.'

'It is therefore down to us as Channel Islanders to make sure our concerns are heard on the international stage and to ensure that we can protect our islands’ waters from marine pollution, either offshore or occurring in our local waters.   As NGO’s caring for our land, sea and the wildlife they contain we believe that the islands should act as one on calling for this practice to be halted immediately.'

Steve Byrne GSPCA Manager said:

'Every year the GSPCA help dozens of birds that are affected by a variety of substances in our waters and we are in full support to halt the use of anything that is legally allowed to be discharged and affect our wonderful wildlife and shores.'

'We haven't had any birds as yet affected by the PIB substance but it is only a matter of time having seen what has happened in the South of the UK.'

'We are very lucky to have an oiled bird unit at the Shelter in Guernsey that can cope with large numbers of oiled birds, but we would much rather see a healthy population in the wild not affected by this discharge from man.'

'We feel very strongly about this and fully support the unprecedented joint letter calling on politicians representing the environment in the 3 main islands to lobby the UK parliament to help prevent future catastrophic discharges of the chemical polyisobutene.'

Signatories to the joint letter are:

Roland Gauvain, Trust Manager, Alderney Wildlife Trust

Hugh Roberts, CEO, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Steve Byrne, Manager, GSPCA

Major Stephen Coleman, Chief Executive, JSPCA

Rodney Collenette, President, La Société Guernesiaise

Mick Dryden, Chairman, Ornithology Section, La Société Jersiaise

Charles Alluto, CEO, The National Trust for Jersey

* What are the impacts of PIB on seabirds and marine wildlife?

PIB usually enters the water through ships ‘flushing’, or washing, their tanks and clearing ballast water. PIB is a hydrophobic substance, so on contact with water it coalesces into a waxy, glue-like formation, generally floating at or just underneath the surface. As such it is extremely hazardous to a range of seabird species, which dive to find food. These birds become covered in the substance, which sticks their wings to their bodies and prevents them from feeding, causing immobilisation, hypothermia, starvation and eventually death. There is also a risk of ingestion of bits of PIB in its waxy form.

The effect of PIB on seabirds is graphically illustrated in this video: (Note that this bird was on an isolated beach at the bottom of a steep cliff and could not be reached by rescuers; it was filmed from the top of the cliff.)

PIB is defined as a `persistent floater’. It is also very slow to degrade (and is not biodegradable) so there are likely to be delayed and less visible wider impacts on marine ecosystems for a long time after any initial spillage. These effects are not however currently studied.

RSPB Briefing – last updated 14 Feb 2013 -PIB A serious hazard to seabirds and the marine environment (

** Mystery spill of Polyisobutylene (C4H8)n off the Dutch coast affecting seabirds in March 2010.  Camphuysen, C. J.1*, Schouten, S.1 and Gronert, A.2. *Correspondence author. Email: [email protected]

1 Royal Netherlands Institute for SeaResearch.

With the recent oiled bird found dead in Alderney due to PIB here is some simple advice on what to do if you find sealife affected by this or any oiled substance

  • Do not risk your safety by looking for or picking up birds from dangerous locations. Be aware of the tides and weather conditions.
  • If you do find an oiled bird and it is safe to pick it up, ensure that you are wearing gloves because the oil could be hazardous to your health. The birds may also try to peck you, so keep them away from your face.
  • Collected birds should be placed on their own in cardboard boxes with newspaper or a towel. DO NOT use hay or straw. The boxes should have ventilation holes.
  • Call the GSPCA 24 hour help line on 01481 257261 or take the bird directly to the Animal Shelter in St Andrews
  • Please do not attempt to wash or feed the bird yourself - leave that to the Shelter staff and volunteers who have the correct training and facilities.

The GSPCA receives dozens of birds every year due to a variety of oiled substances but this simple advice can help save those birds in need.

To see the story of Gillette an oiled razorbill who is doing very well at the GSPCA and will soon be ready to release please click here.


If you would like to donate to the GSPCA and help us care for animals in Guernsey, you can do so by calling into the Shelter, over the phone on 01481 257261 or by clicking the Paypal button below.

To see the story of the release of seal pups Jethou Bumblebee and Hanois please


If you would like to donate towards the seal appeal you can do so by calling into the Shelter, over the phone on 01481 257261 or by clicking the Paypal button below.

To see the story of Jethou Bumblebee the grey seal pup please check out this short video from start to finish on how staff rescued him with a lot of help.

To see the story of Hanois and his rescue please go to

There are many items on the GSPCA's Wish List and you can see many of them by clicking here including a list of Amazon items which would make a difference to animals in Guernsey.

To download our latest newsletter or become a member of the GSPCA please

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The following are events planned for 2013

Every Tuesday during term time between 10.30am and 12pm at the GSPCA we have a coffee morning with bric-a-brac and pet supplies on sale.  Please click here for more details

Clinton's Kilimanjaro Climb in March - One man VS 5,895 m - to find out more please click here for more details

Sunday 2nd June 2013 - Summer Fayre and Dog Show - please click here for more details

Saturday 8th June 2013 Itex Walk Guernsey - We are pleased that for 2013 we are one of the nominated charities benefiting from this years walk. To register and find out more click here for more details and sponsor those taking part.

Sunday 15th September 2013 - Animal Welfare Seafront Sunday - click here for more details.

4th October - World Animal Day - more details to follow


Fancy doing a sponsored event for the GSPCA?  To download a GSPCA Sponsor form please

Download a GSPCA Sponsorship Form


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