Best Practices

Oil spill in Singapore Strait: our suggestions for the public

Oil-slicked Purple Heron. Photo credit: Lester Tan

A collision between a dredger and a tanker on the afternoon of 14th June resulted in the rupture of the tanker’s cargo tank and the spillage of crude oil into the ocean. The authorities’ responded rapidly, but an estimated 400 tonnes of crude oil was released into the Singapore Strait.  Continuing efforts have since been put in place by many stakeholders to contain and clean up the spill, and measures to mitigate the impacts on biodiversity are being undertaken.

Oil spills are known to be hazardous to animals including birds. The oil clogs up feathers, making it difficult for them to maintain their body temperature, which can lead to death by hypothermia. Furthermore, when oil-slicked birds attempt to clean themselves, they may ingest the toxic compounds. Some birds may experience other impacts such as starvation as the oil on the feathers could limit their ability to fly, hunt, and feed normally. Birds that are badly coated in oil may need human intervention to recover. Rescuing and rehabilitating oil-covered birds requires specific facilities and expertise that are not available except in the most specialised of institutions. Various agencies including the National Parks Board, ACRES and Mandai Wildlife have stepped up to rehabilitate as many of the animals in need of rescue as possible.

How can you help?

If you do see an oil-coated animal we urge you to contact the following numbers:

  • NParks Animal Response Centre: 1800 476 1600
  • ACRES emergency rescue hotline: 97837782

Given the specialised nature of the rehabilitation required for oil-covered birds, we discourage the public from attempting to rescue these birds independently. The oil can be harmful to humans as well and should not be handled without proper training and personal protective equipment. In addition, there is a strong need for the birds to be stabilised before commencing treatment; the best outcomes would be achieved if they were left in the hands of experts that are best equipped to manage them.

We have also noted that there have been numerous reports of birds with mildly oiled feathers. We understand that seeing these birds can be very alarming, especially when the birds seem to have had their plumage colour altered by the oil. However, in many of these cases, the birds were seen feeding by themselves and were capable of flight, indicating that they might actually not require human intervention or rehabilitation. The stress endured by the birds during capture, restraint and being held in captivity can outweigh the benefits of removing every trace of oil from them. In addition, birds moult their feathers regularly and will eventually be able to replace their oiled feathers with clean and healthy ones with time. The organisations managing the rehabilitation efforts are continuing to rescue animals that appear to be in need of assistance, but are fully aware that excessive attempts to capture mostly-healthy individuals can be counterproductive. As such, please do not be alarmed if it seems as if your calls and reports are not being responded to immediately. There may be other animals that require a more urgent response for recovery and the attention of the groups coordinating wildlife rescue will necessarily be directed to those animals.

Updates on the situation can be sought here: https://beta.nparks.gov.sg/noticeboard

Let’s work together as a community to help the animals around us.

Again, if you do see an oil-coated bird, please contact the following numbers:

  • NParks Animal Response Centre: 1800 476 1600
  • ACRES emergency rescue hotline: 97837782

(Cover photo: Oil-slicked Purple Heron. Photo credit: Lester Tan)

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