Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Student's oil spill invention attracts accolades

The Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife, or "DR. POW", created by industrial design student Cameron Holder, has been nominated for two New Zealand design awards. Photo: Supplied
The Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife, or "DR. POW", created by industrial design student Cameron Holder, has been nominated for two New Zealand design awards. Photo: Supplied

At a glance, it looks like something between a tent and a spacecraft.

But the innovation by a Massey University student could save the lives of marine species if the country is faced with another major oil spill.

The Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife, or "Dr. Pow", created by industrial design student Cameron Holder, has been nominated for two New Zealand design awards, having already won a major international award.

A survey of existing wildlife rehabilitation pool designs, like those used in the 2011 Rena disaster, had found that most used in New Zealand and internationally were essentially adapted PVC pools with makeshift covers.

Holder's design was developed with input from the Massey-based Wildbase Hospital, the country's only dedicated wildlife hospital.

In 2011, members of the Wildbase oil response team were part of rescue and rehabilitation efforts to save hundreds of sea birds caught in the oil spill when the Rena ran aground off the Tauranga coast.

"I was able to refine and integrate the ideas into my product," Holder said.

"For example many designs have dark mesh covers because it was considered a less stressful environment for wildlife."

However, research had shown that birds were less stressed when they could see out, and the clear mesh allowed people to see in.

"A lot of things are more considered about the design, which has seven access points and can be scaled up for larger animals."

The Dr Pow pool, which is designed to self-expand as it filled with water, provided a safe environment for wildlife such as sea birds, penguins and seals after an oil spill.

Its rapid deployment is an important factor in wildlife recovery and means that many units can be quickly deployed at once, which is essential in rescuing wildlife from oil spills.

Wildbase senior research leader Louise Chilvers said Holder had produced a more user-friendly product than current designs.

"He has understood that from start to finish it is all about the animals. He has not only focused on the rehabilitation pool but looked into other areas of the system," Chilvers said.


The Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife, or "DR. POW", created by industrial design student Cameron Holder, has been nominated for two New Zealand design awards. Photo: Supplied
The Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife, or "DR. POW", created by industrial design student Cameron Holder, has been nominated for two New Zealand design awards. Photo: Supplied


"The idea of the carry box being multipurpose for housing the wildlife at night is great.
"We are all looking forward to taking the design further into the future."

In 2000, nearly 40,000 African penguins were saved in the world's biggest wildlife rescue exercise when the ore carrier Treasure sank near Robben Island, South Africa.

About 2000 rehabilitation pools were used in the exercise.

"I would love to turn this idea into a fully functioning product for the oil and disaster response market," said Holder, who is now working as head digital fabricator for Human Dynamo Workshop in Wellington.

"I would develop it further working with Wildbase Oil Response and produce a full scale prototype for testing."

The design has been nominated for a James Dyson NZ Award and a Designer's Institute of New Zealand Best Award.

Dr. Pow has also been recognised by global design award agency Red Dot.


Kiwi researcher's Deepwater Horizon insights


Meanwhile, a Kiwi researcher has shared her insights into the lingering fall-out of one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history.

After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew on April 20, 2010, the wellhead spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was capped 87 days later.

The impact on the hundreds of marine species living around the area was widespread and ranged from deaths of countless fish to severe defects in dolphins, crabs and many other creatures.

At a research conference in Nelson last week, Auckland University environmental microbiologist Dr Kim Handley detailed the results of her analysis of the disaster's impact on seafloor communities while working at the University of Chicago.

Handley was tasked with trawling through more than a terabyte of data from bacterial samples collected from around the well-head two to three months after it had been capped.

She was involved in reconstructing more than 50 genomes of deep-sea bacteria, and pairing these with gene expression profiles, to measure their response to the spill.

The plume from the spill had effectively rained down hydrocarbons on to the seafloor, 1.5km below the sea surface, and highly contaminated everything within a 3km radius.

"Even after the plume was pretty much gone, the seafloor sediments were still highly contaminated within this 3km area. We found that the spill-responsive bacteria were still actively degrading many of the petroleum components polluting the seafloor."

Within the worst-hit area, there were high levels of toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which include hazardous chemicals and carcinogens, along with a high concentration of alkanes.

"So there were elevated levels of PAHs that exceeded the EPA benchmark for aquatic life for months afterward, which was quite concerning."

Handley said it was difficult measuring impacts on seafloor life further out from the highly contaminated zone.

"The Gulf of Mexico is further complicated by the fact that there's a lot of natural hydrocarbon seeps, so it was really hard to tell whether something was truly impacted from the spill."

She believed the studies were a valuable insight into the long-term effects of large oil spills on sealife - something particularly relevant to countries like New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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