The Foundation years

Cooperation starts

The spirit and will to cooperate amongst European oiled wildlife response organisations was borne out of a number of major oil spills in European waters from 2002 to 2008. These incidents overwhelmed local wildlife response capability, so local response organisations and governments (recognising that they could not deal with the wildlife impacts alone), reached out to Sea Alarm and European wildlife response NGOs who had previous experience of dealing with wildlife rehabilitation in their home countries. These expert groups left their day to day work and mobilised themselves abroad to join the response effort, putting them in a situation where they were working side by side with responders from other countries and local NGO groups.

The collaboration was successful, but Sea Alarm and these expert groups realised that they had some work to do to be better prepared every time for such situations. The groups started to reach out to each other, to exchange methodologies and best practices, and began to respond to new incidents together, gaining more experience as a European expert group. From 2006 onwards, regular exchange meetings of European oiled wildlife response expert organisations were held, arranged and facilitated by Sea Alarm, creating a sense of community and moving towards developing common technical principles for international oiled wildlife response. These processes were boosted by a number of EU-funded projects in 2006-2007 (via the Community Framework for Cooperation on Accidental and Deliberate Marine Pollution), including an initiative to develop and document European best practices for oiled wildlife rehabilitation.

The concept and requirements for a European response team for oiled wildlife response had also been conceptualised in 2007 via an EU-funded project on EU wildlife response planning, in which a number of European wildlife expert groups partnered. It was proposed as a collective, coordinated system provided by trained experts from each European State, where experts from different nationalities could quickly organise themselves in an international team that can be mobilised to assist a country responding to a wildlife incident. Jointly they would be able to apply good practices and obtain the best possible result with the oiled animals in that situation. For European countries, this was thought to be (and still is) a cost-efficient way of achieving an international level of preparedness, while the costs for each country are minimised. 


European oiled wildlife response cooperation was further formalised in 2008 via the EMPOWER (European Management Programme for Oiled Wildlife and other marine wildlife Emergency Responses) initiative. EMPOWER was created as a network of organisations that joined forces to improve the professionalism and capacity of responses to marine wildlife emergencies. It was an NGO initiative which aimed to develop European oiled wildlife response to a level that meet the international standards of professionalism similar to those that apply in oil spill response.

Specific objectives of EMPOWER were to: 

  • Help members facilitate initiatives and activities that lead to greater preparedness for marine wildlife emergencies, including oiled wildlife incidents.
  • Connect organisations and experts across Europe.
  • Provide training opportunities.
  • Offer a sound basis for cooperation between governments, NGOs and industry.
  • Keep members updated on the latest developments in the field of marine wildlife emergencies.

The EMPOWER initiative was started in 2008 by Sea Alarm, together with a core group of Founding Members and funded by a 2009 Operating Grant from the European Commission (under the Financial Instrument for the Environment LIFE+ programme). After 2010, this funding could not be continued to assist the further development of the network. However, the EMPOWER concept is still very much relevant today as a means of developing tools and mechanisms allowing NGOs to develop their expertise together. The philosophy behind EMPOWER has therefore carried through into today’s EUROWA network. 

The Founding Members of the EMPOWER Network were:

  • Estonian Fund for Nature (ELF); Estonia
  • Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association (HELMEPA); Greece
  • Legambiente; Italy
  • Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ); the Netherlands
  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA); UK
  • Sea Alarm Foundation; Belgium
  • Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre Lenie‘t Hart; the Netherlands
  • Wildlife Rescue Centre Ostend; Belgium
  • Zoomarine; Portugal