Oil spill settlement funds directed to seabird conservation
Settlement funds from catastrophes can generate lasting conservation benefits, if directed appropriately. Such is the case with the Nestucca oil spill which occurred in Washington State in 1988. The spill killed thousands of marine birds and the subsequent litigation settlement awarded 3.3 million dollars for recovery and monitoring of Canadian seabirds, in addition to clean-up costs. Settlement damage funds were directed to eradicate introduced rats from Langara Island, to restore what was formerly the world's largest colony of Ancient Murrelets (Synthliboramphus antiquus). In addition, settlement funds were devoted to establishing an ecosystem-level baseline of seabirds and their marine prey populations on Triangle Island, the largest and most diverse seabird colony in Western Canada. One of the projects tracked breeding Cassin's Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) and determined that they foraged far away from the colony in search of deep-sea copepods. The results stimulated conservation planners to enlarge a marine protected area which had been proposed to protect marine birds in the region, but policy guidance was lacking. By 2018 policies had evolved, and Canada announced the formation of their first marine National Wildlife Area following a multi-year engagement process with many interested parties. At the same time, Shell Canada relinquished all of their exploratory drilling rights within the area. The settlement funds from a catastrophic oil spill facilitated the recovery of seabirds on Langara Island, the formation of the first marine protected area for wildlife in Canada, and a reduction of future threats from exploratory drilling in an internationally important ecosystem.