Oil, meet DR POW - the portable pool for saving sea creatures' lives

A Massey student has come up with a new way to save the lives of animals affected by an oil spill.

A temporary habitat designed by Massey University industrial design student Cameron Holder for his Honours project, which speeds up the rehabilitation of marine wildlife during oil spill responses, has been nominated for two Best Awards.

Known as the Deployable Rehabilitation Pool for Oiled Wildlife (DR POW), the design has been nominated for a James Dyson NZ Award and a Designer’s Institute of New Zealand Best Award. The DR POW has also already won an international Red Dot award. In other words, it’s something some of the design industry’s best minds think has real potential.

Research of existing wildlife rehabilitation pool designs found that most used in New Zealand and internationally are essentially adapted PVC pools with makeshift covers – and that’s where Holder’s design differs. The DR POW was devised in consultation with Wildbase Hospital, New Zealand’s only dedicated wildlife hospital based at Massey University’s Palmerston North campus.

The design is a few years in the making. 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 container ship Rena ran aground off the coast from Tauranga. “I was able to refine and integrate the ideas into my product,” explains Holder. “For example many designs have dark mesh covers because it was considered that was a less stressful environment for wildlife. However, research has shown that birds are less stressed when they can see out and clear mesh allows people to see in. There are a lot of things which are more considered about the design [of the DR POW] which has seven different access points and can be scaled up for larger animals,” he says.    

Made to be able to expand as it fills with water, the DR POW acts as a “safety bubble” for seabirds, penguins, seals and more. Rapid deployment helps too, meaning several units can be sent to the scene of an oil spill quickly.

Wildbase senior lecturer Louise Chilvers says Holder’s design is more user-friendly than similar devices used to help animals affected by oil spills. “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. Cameron was amazing to work with!”

Her praise doesn’t end there. “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.”

Holder himself says he has big plans for the DR POW. “I would love to turn this idea into a fully functioning product for the oil and disaster response market,” he says. “I would develop it further working with Wildbase Oil Response and produce a full scale prototype for testing.”

We’re pretty certain the creatures of the sea would thank him if it does enter mass production.