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Kildare Wildlife Rescue helping a bird found in Greystones Kildare Wildlife Rescue
Injured Birds

Birds coated in oil found on east coast as Coast Guard tried to locate spill offshore

Conservationists are highly concerned about the impacts of the oil spill on wild sea birds.

NUMEROUS BIRDS WITH their feathers coated in oil have been found along the east coast today due to an oil spill out at sea, with potentially “hundreds” of wildlife affected.

Conservationists are highly concerned about the impacts of the spill on wild sea birds and a lack of coordinated approach from authorities in Ireland to deal with this kind of incident.

Reports have come in of oiled birds from as south as Carnsore Point in Wexford up to Dalkey Island in Dublin, with affected birds including guillemots and razorbills.

“The Coast Guard has been sending a helicopter out to try to find the source of the spill. The most recent information we have is that they haven’t found it yet, but from the way it’s dispersed and the difficulty in finding it, it would seem that it might be quite a distance offshore,” said Niall Hatch, Head of Communications at BirdWatch Ireland, speaking to The Journal.

“With oil spills, it can be that a boat has leaked, or sometimes unfortunately it’s due to ships illegally washing their tanks out at sea,” Hatch said.

Hatch said that when a spill occurs, the oiled birds that make it to land tend to only be a small proportion of the total number affected, as the “vast majority” will die at sea.

When the oil clings to a bird’s feathers, it destroys the feathers’ waterproofing effect, which means the birds’ ability to swim is significantly diminished, Hatch explained.

“When the oil affects the feathers in that way, it can lead to hypothermia and they’ll die. Or, they can get so waterlogged they can sink and drown because they can’t get up for breath,” he said.

“The ones that do manage to get ashore, their instinct will be to preen the oil out of their feathers with their beaks. In doing this, they end up swallowing it. It’s incredibly toxic and very often they can end up getting completely poisoned and they die from that or it causes terrible internal damage.”

Kildare Wildlife Rescue highlighted Greystones, Brittas Bay, Newcastle Beach, Wicklow Town, and Curracloe Beach as among the areas that have reported oiled birds and said its trained responders are trying to provide assistance. 

The charity is advising members of the public to refrain from handling oiled birds and to instead report sightings to, including any photos or videos, a Google Map pin, and a contact phone number.

It has also urged dog owners to keep their dogs on leads as the chemicals on the birds are harmful to animals.

“While it is still early to quantify the full extent of this environmental catastrophe, the impact is already profound, with potentially hundreds of animals affected,” Pearse Stokes, KWR Rescue Coordinator, said.

“Ireland has no official Oil Spill Response Plan for Wildlife. All the people you see helping are volunteers. Please be supportive.”

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore for Wicklow has said the situation is an “unacceptable threat to our already vulnerable seabird population” and called on the government to “offer every necessary support to the organisations tasked with rescuing, cleaning and rehabilitating the affected birds”.

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