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The latest reports indicate that the recovery of any more oiled penguins from the islands in the Tristan da Cunha island group has probably concluded. Conservation officials on the islands have said they believe that all of the live oiled penguins have now been collected and brought to the rehabilitation center on the main island (Tristan da Cunha). This temporary rehabilitation center was constructed after supplies and staff from SANCCOB (Cape Town’s seabird rescue center) arrived on the tug, Svitzer Singapore, on April 5th. Extremely rough seas made it nearly impossible to access several of the islands over the last week or two, but now that a helicopter has arrived (as of last Tuesday on the Russian research vessel, the Ivan Papanin), they should be able to conduct more thorough surveys of the islands. The good news is that the rough seas have helped to break up the oil in the waters surrounding the islands.

Five ships at Tristan da Cunha - the most ever seen there at once. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

Five ships at Tristan da Cunha - the most ever seen there at once. A helicopter is on the ship on the right, the Ivan Papanin. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

Once the Svitzer Singapore arrived from Cape Town with frozen fish and cleaning supplies (including detergent, wash-tubs, degreaser, toothbrushes, hot water heaters and infrared heat lamps), the training of volunteers and cleaning of the oiled penguins could finally begin. Which was a tremendous relief. However, these birds had been coated in toxic oil for so long that they were in a very compromised state. In the past week, 1,577 of the 3,718 oiled penguins died. At this point, the exact cause of these deaths has not been released.

SANCCOB CEO Venessa Strauss spraying degreaser onto an oiled Rockhopper penguin prior to washing it. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

SANCCOB CEO Venessa Strauss spraying degreaser onto an oiled Rockhopper penguin prior to washing it. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

Washing a Rockhopper penguin at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSP

Washing a Rockhopper penguin at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

But we do know the following from previous experience; an oiled animal will compulsively preen or groom itself (a penguin uses its beak to do this) so they ingest the toxic oil covering their bodies. This leads to dehydration, anemia (the red blood cells lyse or break down, and the birds also get bleeding ulcers), and other health issues. Eventually, this long-term exposure to the toxic oil can kill them. So, the ideal situation is to get the penguins washed as soon as possible once they have been oiled (after first giving them 24-48 hours to stabilize after being captured and transported).

But, unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond the control of the islanders and the conservation officers stationed there (and the penguin experts coming from Cape Town), the necessary supplies did not arrive until three weeks after the oil spill occurred. The hold-up was apparently on the governmental level in the UK (this island group is a British territory). We still do not have answers as to why the official response from the UK was so slow and insufficient. Had professional rescue teams (bringing necessary supplies) been allowed to go to Tristan as soon as this oil spill occurred, the lives of many more penguins would undoubtedly have been saved.

Emaciated oiled penguin rescued on March 23rd. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSP

Heavily oiled, emaciated penguin rescued on March 23rd. Photo by Katrine Herian

The timing of this oil spill also was disastrous for the penguins because they were just completing their annual molts (during which they fast for 2-3 weeks), and were already extremely thin to begin with. Before the Svitzer Singapore arrived with 20 tons of frozen sardines, islanders fished for local fish to feed the penguins – and even donated all of the fish in their personal freezers to the cause. According to the latest reports, the islanders are doing a wonderful job washing the penguins and nursing them back to health under the direction of the professional rescue teams. For more on the recent updates, you can read last week’s article from BirdLife International Community, titled Wash and dry for rockhoppers at rehab center. This page from the official Tristan da Cunha website also has updated reports: Seabird Rehabilitation on Tristan da Cunha main island.

Islanders cutting up fish they had caught to feed the oiled penguins.

Islanders cutting up fish they had caught to feed the oiled penguins.

So several questions remain; How many penguins died on the islands or at sea before they could be collected or counted? How many of the rescued penguins will survive, and how many will continue to breed after being rehabilitated and released? How will this oil spill impact the future survival of this endangered species? How will it affect the local ecology of this island group? Will the oil enter the food chain, thus affecting the penguins and other seabirds further? At this point, the local lobster fishery has been shut down due to oil contamination. This fishery is the primary source of income for the 270 islanders living on Tristan da Cunha. How will this oil spill impact the islanders as well?

Until the penguins return in August for the next breeding season, we won’t realize the full impact of this oil spill. Even then, we still won’t have all of the answers to these questions. But, when they do return (after spending months feeding at sea in preparation for the breeding season), conservation officers on the islands will be able to conduct nest counts, which should give us some indication of how many penguins might have been lost that were not accounted for at this time. To fully understand the long-term impact the MS Oliva oil spill will have on this pristine region, and on the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins, will require long-term monitoring. This project will require a great deal of funding – and it will not be covered by the ship’s insurers.

Hand-feeding a thin, oiled Rockhopper penguin at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Estelle van der Merwe

Hand-feeding a thin, oiled Rockhopper penguin at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Estelle van der Merwe

The following organizations have set up special fundraisers for the rescue, rehabilitation and future monitoring of the Rockhopper penguins at Tristan da Cunha. PLEASE DONATE GENEROUSLY TO HELP THE PENGUINS! Thank you!

The Ocean Doctor (Dr. David Guggenheim)http://oceandoctor.org/ (Click on the green ‘donate now’ button in the right-hand column.) Or go to this link:Nightingale Island Disaster Penguin and Seabird Rescue Fund

Royal Society for the Protection of BirdsNightingale Island Emergency Appeal

Foundation for Antarctic ResearchCatastrophic Oil Spill – Tristan


Dyan deNapoli (The Penguin Lady) – author of The Great Penguin Rescue

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While I was out of town for several appearances this week, Sandra Birnhak, Director of the Foundation for Antarctic Research, was busy e-mailing me with regular updates about her fundraiser on Crowdrise for the oiled Rockhopper penguins at the Tristan da Cunha islands. Sandra visited this remote island group many years ago, and fell in love with the Rockhopper penguins she observed there. It was some time after this visit and several expeditions to Antarctica that she founded her non-profit organization. The mission statement from the group’s website says; Founded in 2008, The Foundation for Antarctic Research, Inc. primary focus is scientific research in Antarctica on behalf of wildlife that is gravely affected by changes in the environment and fishery laws.

Dead oiled Rockhopper penguin at Nightingale Islands. Photo by Andrew Evans

Dead oiled Rockhopper penguin at Nightingale Island. Photo by Andrew Evans

Deeply moved by the current penguin crisis at Tristan da Cunha, Sandra began a fundraising campaign on Crowdrise, with an initial goal of raising $10,000 by tomorrow night (Sunday, April 3rd). As of this morning, her campaign had raised $4,770. Right now (4:00 pm EST on Saturday) the fund is up to $5,515. With your help, we can  meet that $10,000 goal. Please donate generously TODAY!

Sandra also came up with the idea of giving away a copy of my book, The Great Penguin Rescue, which chronicles the remarkable rescue of 40,000 penguins from the Treasure oil spill in South Africa, for a $100 donation. I served as a rehabilitation supervisor during this massive rescue effort, and am donating 20% of my proceeds from the book to penguin rescue and conservation groups. Sandra is providing several copies of my book for donors to the Tristan rescue, and I am donating copies to her fundraiser as well.

 

The Great Penguin Rescue by Dyan deNapoli

The Great Penguin Rescue by Dyan deNapoli

But her efforts don’t stop with this fundraiser – she has been very active in reaching out to her broad network, trying to get as many people as possible to support the rescue efforts at Tristan and to help disseminate information about the Rockhopper penguins and how they have been harmed by the MS Oliva oil spill. The Northern Rockhopper penguin is already classified as an endangered species, and if we don’t get more help out to these imperiled seabirds now, thousands will assuredly perish.

Large group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

Large group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

Much has happened in the four days that I was away, and I will post another update later today with the most recent news from the islands. I’ve been in communication with folks on the rescue team and with others closely involved with various fundraising efforts. I will do my best to distill everything down to a comprehensive and manageable report.

In the meantime, please visit the Crowdrise webpage for this fundraiser: CATASTROPHIC OIL SPILL – TRISTAN. And PLEASE DONATE GENEROUSLY. TODAY! Thank you.

Dyan deNapoli, penguin expert and author of The Great Penguin Rescue

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Dear fellow penguin and nature lovers,

I received a call today from Heather at The Ocean Foundation, alerting me to this urgent briefing tomorrow by Dr. David Guggenheim (otherwise known as the Ocean Doctor). Dr. Guggenheim just happened to be near Tristan da Cunha when the MS Oliva slammed into Nightingale Island on March 16th, spilling its fuel oil and oiling thousands of endangered Rockhopper penguins. Please see the press release below for more details. For those in the DC area, you can attend his talk in person at 10:00 am at the National Audubon Society 1150 Connecticut Ave #600. All others can watch the live webinar from 10:00 am to noon here: http://anymeeting.com/oceandoctor1

Urgent Briefing and Webinar on Oil Spill Disaster at Nightingale Island, Second Largest Population of Seabirds in the World

For those in Washington, DC, please attend this briefing live at 10am-12pm Eastern Time, Thursday March 31, 2011 : National Audubon Society, 1150 Connecticut Ave NW # 600, Washington, DC 20036-4132.

For those unable to attend in person, Dr. Guggenheim’s presentation will be broadcast via webinar and you can participate using the following link: http://anymeeting.com/oceandoctor1
Please join Dr. David E. Guggenheim, Senior Fellow at The Ocean Foundation, for an urgent briefing and strategy session regarding a major environmental disaster still unfolding at Nightingale Island, part of the most remote inhabited island group in the world, located in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.
Dr. Guggenheim, who was on site shortly after the disaster occurred, will present details of this recent disaster, including photos and video. Trevor Glass, director of the Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation, will participate by telephone from Tristan da Cunha.

Background of Oil Spill Disaster at Nightingale Island

Nearby Tristan da Cunha, where the only settlement exists, has a population of less than 300. Dr. Guggenheim was aboard the Silversea vessel, “Prince Albert II” which was in the area when, for reasons still under investigation, the 75,300 ton Greek freighter “Oliva,” en route from Santos, Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of soya beans, ran aground onto the rocks at Nightingale Island’s northwestern corner on March 16th. By early the following morning, when the Prince Albert II arrived on scene, the “Oliva”’s captain reported water in the engine room and the ship had a significant fuel leak from its tanks carrying 300,000 gallon load of heavy marine oil.

The Prince Albert II’s expedition team — specially trained in the operation of Zodiacs in heavy weather — rescued the 12 crew still aboard the Oliva. The expedition team reported heavy oil conditions in the water. Less than 12 hours later, Oliva broke apart on the rocks and the stern section which housed the crew, rolled onto its side and into the waves.

Once ashore at Tristan de Cunha on March 19th, Dr. Guggenheim met with Trevor Glass, Director of Tristan da Cunha’s Department of Conservation. Mr. Glass reported that oil had completely encircled Nightingale Island and that many oiled penguins, albatross and other seabirds, along with subantarctic fur seals,were observed. The Tristan de Cunha island group represents the second largest concentration of sea birds in the world. Half of the world’s endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin population is found here. Nightingale Island holds more than 100,000 pairs of Northern Rockhopper penguins, 20,000 pairs of albatrosses including the yellow nose albatross, and 2,000,000 pairs of Broadbill prions. The island is also home to the highly-endangered Tristan Bunting. Only 50 pairs remain in the world, all of which are found on Nightingale Island. Over the past week, the oil has encircled nearby Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site. Today (March 28), Dr. Guggenheim spoke with Mr. Glass and learned that the situation remains dire, efforts now being hampered by 50-60 knot winds and a shortage of supplies. The Oliva continues to leak oil.

Wildlife rescue efforts are underway, however the remoteness of Tristan de Cunha, which has no landing strip, means that the nearest help is a 4-7 day boat ride away (from Cape Town, South Africa). Trevor’s team is not equipped to deal with an oil spill of this magnitude and outside assistance is desperately needed. The Prince Albert II was able to supply Mr. Glass’ team with parkas, gum boots and gloves before its departure, and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), based in Cape Town, is providing some assistance.

Thank you!
David

David E. Guggenheim, Ph.D., the “Ocean Doctor”

Senior Fellow, The Ocean Foundation

Director, Cuba Marine Research & Conservation Program

http://www.OceanDoctor.orghttp://www.TheOceanFoundation.org

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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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Many thanks to Brian who just sent me this video of the oiled penguins at Tristan da Cunha. This was narrated and posted on YouTube by Andrew on ‘WheresAndrewTV’s Channel‘. Andrew posted another video on his YouTube channel the day before the MS Oliva ran aground, poignantly saying how he has dreamed his entire life of visiting this beautiful remote island. Little did he know he would have just one day to enjoy its wildlife and pristine beauty before the area would be smothered in oil.

(My apologies for the code showing – I haven’t yet figured out how to post the video without it showing up. Ach – and now, for some reason, the video keeps disappearing, even after the post is up. Not sure if it’s a YouTube issue, but I’m just going to post the URL for now until I can straighten this out. Sorry for the technical difficulties.)

The images of the oiled birds and other wildlife in this video are quite distressing, but it’s important that people are aware of this horrendous ecological disaster, so please share this video widely.

And to donate to the rescue effort now underway at the islands, visit the Ocean Foundation’s website. The donation form is here.

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For the last several days, I’ve been closely following the reports of the oil spill that occurred following the grounding of the Greek-managed carrier MS Oliva at Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha territory. For those just reading about this devastating ecological disaster for the first time, this small group of islands, smack dab in the middle of the Southern Atlantic ocean, is home to most of the world’s population of Endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins, as well as millions of other seabirds, including the endangered Speckled petrel. For reasons not yet known, the Oliva was miles off course when it steamed full ahead into the island in the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 16th. Half of the ship’s crew was removed that day and the rest of the crew was rescued on the 17th. Oil first appeared in the water on the morning of Thursday, March 17th.

MS Oliva grounded at Nightingale Island near Tristan da Cunha

MS Oliva grounded at Nightingale Island, Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Andy Repetto

On Friday, March 18th, the ship broke in two in the rough seas, with more oil leaking from the damaged hull. By this point, the oil had surrounded Nightingale Island, where approximately 20,000 Northern Rockhopper penguins are just completing their annual molts. By the next morning, Saturday, March 19th, oil had been spotted up to eight miles offshore, and scores of heavily oiled penguins were coming ashore. By yesterday, Sunday, March 20th, the oil had hit Inaccessible Island, and hundreds more heavily oiled penguins were spotted by local conservation officials. This part of the world is home to approximately 200,000 Endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. Because they are just finishing molting, the birds are already underweight (they fast while replacing their feathers during their 2-3 week molt), and they are now taking to the sea again to hunt for food.

Heavily oiled Northern Rockhopper penguin at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

Heavily oiled Northern Rockhopper penguin at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

Tragically, this small group of islands is incredibly remote, making a large-scale rescue effort extremely challenging. There is not even a landing strip for airplanes, so the only way to reach the islands is by ship. The closest landmass is South Africa, some 1,700 miles away (to the East). The next closest continent is South America, some 2,300 miles to the West. The voyage to Tristan da Cunha from South Africa takes 4-7 days, depending on the vessel and the weather. There will undoubtedly be tens of thousands of penguins, as well as thousands of other seabirds, oiled in this spill. Getting the necessary resources, as well as enough people to care for the birds out to these islands will prove to be a superhuman endeavor.

Group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

Group of oiled Rockhopper penguins at Nightingale Island. Photo by Tristan Conservation Team

A bit of hopeful news – a salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, is due to arrive from Cape Town today, and Estelle van der Merwe, whom I worked under during the massive penguin rescue effort that took place following the Treasure oil spill in South Africa, is onboard. Under her strong leadership, nearly 40,000 African penguins were saved during the Treasure oil spill rescue. Estelle will serve as an advisor to the Tristan da Cunha conservation officials. But the rescue effort at Tristan will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge ever faced by even the most seasoned wildlife rescue professionals.

To follow the daily reports on this oil spill, check the websites listed below. I will also be posting daily updates on my Facebook page.

The Penguin Lady on Facebook

Tristan da Cunha’s official website

Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP)

The Ocean Doctor’s website

SANCCOB’s website

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A devastating oil spill has occurred off Nightingale Island at Tristan da Cunha, home to the world’s largest population of the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi). Declared an endangered species in 2008, most of the population inhabits this remote island – other islands in the area are home to smaller colonies of this penguin species. In the last census in the 1970’s, there were approximately 125,000 pairs of Northern Rockhoppers. Although an official count has not been taken since then, researcher’s observations suggest the population has fallen in the years since.

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, March 16th, a bulk carrier named the MS Oliva ran aground just off the coast of Nightingale Island, which is also home to several other seabird species, including the Endangered Speckled petrel. The ship was carrying more than 300,000 gallons of heavy marine oil and 15,000 gallons of diesel (both used as fuel), and that oil is now leaking into the surrounding waters. There are unconfirmed reports of oiled birds coming ashore, and some dead birds have also been reported.

Mounting a rescue effort will take a herculean effort due to the extreme remoteness of this island. There are fewer than 300 residents on Tristan da Cunha and – to the best of my knowledge – there is no wildlife rescue center there. We can only wait and see what the conservation agencies in the area and international wildlife rescue groups can tell us about the possibility of a rescue effort to save the oiled and soon-to-be-oiled penguins. Sadly, without human intervention, these seabirds stand little chance of survival, and tens of thousands could be lost.

I am just heartbroken by this news, and cannot help thinking about the thousands of African penguins that were oiled during the Treasure oil spill in South Africa close to eleven years ago. Walking into that dark, dusty warehouse in Cape Town and being confronted by thousands of oil-covered, traumatized penguins was devastating. Some of the volunteers who arrived to help us care for the penguins were just too upset by the sight of the oiled birds, and could not return to the rescue centers. Thankfully, more than 12,500 dedicated volunteers were up to the task, and we ultimately saved 90% of the 19,000 oiled penguins. Sadly, the Northern Rockhoppers and other birds at Tristan da Cunha are far less likely to be saved by a similar response.

African penguin oiled during Treasure oil spill. Photo by Les Underhill, ADU

African penguin oiled during Treasure oil spill. Photo by Les Underhill, ADU

The one possible bright spot is that many of the penguins are currently molting, which means they may not be taking to the sea at this time. Penguins can’t enter the cold waters to hunt while replacing all of their feathers during their annual molt, so they live off of stored fat reserves during this physiologically stressful period. The molt typically takes 2-3 weeks, so one can only hope that the oil spill has been cleaned up by the time most of the birds have finished their molts.

For more on this developing story, visit the Ocean Doctor’s website. I will also post updates and official reports as I learn of them.

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