British Divers Marine Life Rescue carry on travelling.
Although British Divers Marine Life Rescue, as the name suggests, is an organisation that operates in Britain, we have on occasion been invited out to other countries to run training courses for groups that need help in developing their own networks and teams. In 2002 we went to the Falkland Islands, and in 2010 it was the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia followed later. Staff have even been known to run impromptu courses when on vacation, in Kenya for example. In 2017 it has been the turn of Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan, in cetnral Asia, is the 9th largest country in the world and it is in fact the largest landlocked country. However, it does have a coastline, along the Northern and Eastern edges of the Caspian Sea – a landlocked body of water of a brackish nature. It is home to the endangered Caspian seal, as well as six species of sturgeon, many of which are critically endangered and are sadly threatened by large amounts of illegal fishing, poaching, entanglement and other pollution, depleted food sources and climate change. With population decreases of over 90% for some of these species over the last 30 – 50 years, local industries and organisations sent an invitation out to us to help train up some of their staff. This included representatives from Tengizchevroil LLP, KAPE LLC, the North Caspian Operating Company and the Kazakhstan Institute for Hydrobiology and Ecology.
Welfare Development and Field Support Officer Dan Jarvis was duly sent over to their offices in Aktau (via Newquay, Gatwick, Heathrow, Astana, Atyrau and Aktau airports!) to run a Caspian seal and sturgeon rescue course for 20 trainees of Kazakh, Russian, British and Australian backgrounds, a few of whom have already been involved in rescue work for some time. As not all the trainees spoke English, an excellent translator was also provided to teach the course consecutively in Russian and facilitate discussion sessions through the day! It was fascinating to hear about the issues that they face in the region, with entanglement being one of the biggest problems. In fact, there are sometimes cases of huge nets up to 1km long washing up with several live seals caught in it that all need to be caught and freed that they must deal with. On a more positive note it was also encouraging to find out about satellite tagging programmes and habitat creation projects that are being operated and supported by them to help conserve the seals in the area too.
The morning was devoted entirely to the seal half of the course, and after the health assessment lecture came the practical exercise with our trusty life-size inflatable seal pup model, which the trainees had great fun trying to catch with a towel and then working in pairs to transfer it to a seal bag. Meanwhile, the afternoon was given over to the sturgeons, with some species identification and more health assessment in the lecture, followed by some general health and safety advice.
However, as we don’t have a trusty life-size inflatable sturgeon we had to improvise with a trusty life-size translator, with much hilarity and enthusiasm! The trainees were taught how to get the ‘sturgeon’ into a tarpaulin and then carry it to the other side of the conference room so that it could be refloated (twice).
A final discussion session was had before the final presentation of certificates to the fantastic team that attended, and we would like to thank Aliya, Saniya, Sholpan, Bret, Glen and Ceri from TCO for inviting us over and organising all the paperwork and people to facilitate the day, Meirzhan for his amazing translating skills and sturgeon impression, and to our own Dan who researched and wrote a new course from scratch and then had a 10,000 mile round trip in under four days to run it!