Oil spills are common environmental emergencies that pose serious threat to human health and the environment. The number of oil spill incidents from oil transportation, transfer and storage sites has increased recently. These are most dangerous for the environment when they reach coastal areas: handling such incidents requires a large number of specially trained personnel. The participation of trained volunteers in oil spill response exercises and recovery in coastal areas has helped to minimise environmental damage as a result of oil spills.
Environmental volunteers are qualified specialists who volunteer to reduce technogenic impact on the environment. In 2013 St. Petersburg Committee for Nature Use, Environmental Protection and Ecological Safety in cooperation with the St. Petersburg State Enterprise for the Prevention and Abatement of Accidental Oil Spills “PILARN” trained a total of 106 volunteers. The Committee works closely with leading universities in St. Petersburg, e.g. St. Petersburg State University, Russian State Hydrometeorological University, Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, State Polar Academy and St. Petersburg State Academy of Veterinary Medicine.
The training of volunteers takes place in several stages: the theory element of the course is completed at universities, whereas the safety training is carried out by specialists of “PILARN” who demonstrate the tools and equipment used to manage oil spills. The final stage includes training at coastal zones. After completion of all three training stages, volunteers receive a certificate that allows them to participate in shoreline oil spill response exercises. In addition, the Committee organises advanced training courses for those volunteers who have already received initial training.
Another area of volunteer’s work is the protection of avifauna which is particularly vulnerable to oil pollution. The specialists of St. Petersburg Committee for Nature Use together with members of St. Petersburg State Institution ‘Nature Reserve Area Direction’ and St. Petersburg State Academy of Veterinary Medicine took part in the practical seminar organised by World Wildlife Fund Finland (WWF Finland) where the key aspects of avifauna protection were discussed the Committee is planning to purchase special containers with bio-rehabilitation equipment to enable the volunteers to train in the area of cleaning birds affected by oil spills.
The oil spill response operations system in St. Petersburg is a year-round service that can handle even major oil spill incidents. This ensures high level of environmental safety in the region and makes a positive impact on the environment of the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland.
The training of eco-volunteers was carried out as part of the “RescOp – Development of Rescue operations in the Gulf of Finland” project supported by the South-East Finland-Russia ENPI (European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument) Programme. The project aims to strengthen Russian-Finnish cooperation in the area of risk management, increase maritime safety and reduce the cross-border environmental risk through research, development and training. The final number of eco-volunteers in the database, currently 250, has exceeded the project’s targets for the number of oil spill recovery volunteers of 120, which demonstrates the determination of students who want to contribute to the environmental protection of their home region and gain valuable experience and knowledge.
As a result of the implementation of the RescOp project, a significant number of eco-volunteers have been trained to carry out shoreline oil spill response operations. Moreover, the project has opened further opportunities for the development of volunteer initiatives in the St. Petersburg region. The Committee will continue to work in this direction to develop effective training programmes for eco-volunteers.