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Posts Tagged ‘Cape Argus’

Wow, where to start? It’s been a whirlwind week. I’ve been away since Friday – thus the radio silence for the last several days – and I’m turning right around to hit the road again for a number of author appearances this week. I’ll be on the road until Saturday, so please forgive the lack of updates during the coming week. Although I will do my best to post from the road, time and internet access may make it a bit challenging. O.K., enough about that – now on the important stuff, and the real reason why you (and I) are here.

There is both good news and bad news coming from the Tristan da Cunha islands. The good news is that a ship carrying supplies and five experienced penguin rehabilitators from SANCCOB has FINALLY left Cape Town. More than a week was lost jumping through several political hoops before they got permission to sail to the islands. With every passing day, the penguins are growing weaker from hunger and from the toxic effects of being smothered in oil, so time is of the essence.  The ship is carrying frozen fish and penguin washing supplies to the area. But these supplies are limited and the penguins are many. Bad weather is also hampering the rescue efforts – and will likely slow the ship’s progress as well. For more details about this, please see this article in yesterday’s Cape Argus newspaper: Birds rescued from Tristan oil spill. (The Cape Argus site is now all wonky – but this link has a copy of John Yeld’s original article.)

Briefly, here is where things stand: Approximately 1,000 oiled Rockhopper penguins have been rescued, and are being cared for by 100 islanders. Local fishermen have been catching fish to feed the penguins until the frozen fish arrives with the long-awaited ship. Another 1,000 or so penguins that have not yet been oiled have been corralled to keep them from entering the water and getting oiled. The plan is to transport them far from the oil-polluted waters, and release them into clean waters. Penguins have excellent homing instincts, and hopefully the area will be cleaned of the oil by the time the penguins find their way home.

This same strategy was used very effectively once before. During the rescue of African penguins from the Treasure oil spill in June of 2000, 19,506 clean penguins were transported 500 miles away from the oiled waters of Table Bay and released at Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth to swim back to their islands. Which they did in about two week’s time. They arrived just as workers had finished cleaning up the spill. This was a risky experiment at the time – nobody had tried this technique before, but at that point in the rescue, there was no more room to house another 20,000 penguins (on top of the 20,000 oiled penguins already at the rescue centers), and there were not enough people to care for them either. Luckily, their experiment worked. Based on this success, conservation workers proposed utilitzing this strategy in future spills. Which, for better or worse, they now have the opportunity to try again.

(For an animated map of the epic swim made by three of the Treasure penguins from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, click here.)

Sadly, there are thousands of oiled penguins (an estimated 10,000-20,000) still waiting to be rescued on the Tristan islands. The stark reality is that there just is not the manpower or the resources available to be able to rescue many of these birds. This is truly a devastating blow for the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin.

Heavily oiled Rockhopper at Tristan. Photo by Andrew Evans

Heavily oiled Rockhopper at Tristan. Photo by Andrew Evans

I must leave shortly, so I apologize for not providing more details in this post. I’m including links to a few sites that should fill in some of the gaps for now. For continued updates on the oil spill rescue and recovery efforts, I recommend the following websites:

The official Tristan da Cunha website about the MS Oliva spill: http://www.tristandc.com/newsmsolivahelp.php

The ACAP website has daily updates: http://www.acap.aq/latest-news/breaking-news-bulk-carrier-ms-oliva-has-run-aground-on-tristans-nightingale-island

The Ocean Doctor (Dr. David Guggenheim): http://oceandoctor.org/

To donate to this vitally important rescue effort, please visit The Ocean Foundation.

Sandra Birnhak is also collecting donations for the rescue effort through her Crowdwise page here.

Please continue to spread the word everyone! And many thanks to all of you for sharing your concern for these beautiful seabirds.

Dyan deNapoli – Penguin expert and author of The Great Penguin Rescue.

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When the carrier MS Oliva ran aground last Wednesday morning on Nightingale Island – a tiny, 1.5 square-mile speck in the middle of the Southern Atlantic Ocean – thousands of seabirds on this isolated (and nearly untouched by man) island were suddenly put in dire peril. Approximately 200,000 endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins live on the few small islands that are part of the Tristan da Cunha island group. Local conservation officials have estimated that at least 20,000 penguins will be oiled from the fuel oil that spilled from the ship as it broke apart and sank. Other seabird species inhabiting these islands have also been observed with oil on their bodies. I almost hate to say it out loud, but the outlook is grim.

MS Oliva broken apart at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Tea

MS Oliva broken apart at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

Trevor Glass, one of the Tristan Conservation Officers, has been working around the clock since the ship grounded on March 16th. After conducting an emergency survey of the area several days ago he was quoted as saying, “The scene at Nightingale is dreadful, as there is an oil slick encircling the island. The Tristan Conservation Team are doing all they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster!”

Three oiled Rockhoppers at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

Three oiled Rockhoppers at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

The task they face is truly daunting – there are only 100 islanders available to help with the rescue efforts. And while SANCCOB and IBRRC have teams on stand-by, getting supplies and wildlife rescue teams there from other countries is proving to be a tremendous challenge. Not only are distance and accessibility major factors (the only way to get there is a 4-7 day journey by sea), there are political hoops to jump through to get foreigners out these islands. (For more on that, see this article in Tuesday’s Cape Argus newspaper: Rescuers on standby after island disaster.) But the following blog post from Jay Holcomb, Director Emeritus for IBRRC, seems to indicate that a team from SANCCOB might be on its way there now. It was written the day prior to the Cape Argus article, so it’s not entirely clear where they stand at the moment. “Catastrophic South Atlantic Oil Spill Threatens Endangered Rockhopper Penguins.”

Large group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team
Large group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

Many concerned people have been sending me messages this week, asking how they can help the stricken penguins on the Tristan da Cunha islands. To everyone wanting to help, I have some good news! The Ocean Foundation has just set up a fund to help save the penguins and other oiled seabirds affected by this oil spill. While it should be noted that the ship’s insurers will be required to pay for all costs associated with the animal rescue efforts and the removal of oil from the environment, it may be some time before these fines are paid, and the handful of rescue workers currently out on the islands trying to save the birds are in desperate need of funding to carry them over until then. PLEASE donate as generously as you possibly can – the penguins desperately need you!


To make a donation to help save the oiled seabirds at Tristan da Cunha, visit The Ocean Foundation‘s website. Your donation to the Nightingale Island Disaster Penguin and Seabird Rescue Fund is tax-deductible, and will go directly to help the teams working to save the oiled seabirds at Nightingale Island, Tristan da Cunha and Inaccessible Island. There is also a link to this donation form on the Ocean Doctor’s website (Dr. David Guggenheim).

Please help spread the word about this rescue fund. Thank you for your help!

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