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Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Foundation’

Well, it’s been a while since my last post – work-related travel and several other projects have kept me extremely busy since my last report on the oil spill at the Tristan da Cunha island group. While I sorely wish I had better news to report regarding the valiant efforts to save the Rockhopper penguins oiled in the MS Oliva oil spill on March 16th, the painful reality is that a very large number of the affected birds have died.

 

What’s even more difficult to accept is the fact that these majestic seabirds didn’t have to die. We currently have the means and the expertise to save oiled penguins – however it was impossible to get experienced rescuers or needed supplies to this remote location in time to save these birds. But it shouldn’t be that way.

Oiled and ailing Rockhopper penguins in truck. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

Oiled and ailing Rockhopper penguins in truck. Photo by Katrine Herian, RSPB

While the crew and owners of ships are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safe navigation of their vessels, wherever shipping lanes pass close to sensitive wildlife areas, we must be better prepared to deal with potential oil spills and the ensuing animal rescues. There should be established rescue facilities with trained staff at the ready to respond whenever an oil spill occurs. And I believe the onus should be on the shipping companies to pay for these facilities, the supplies and the staffing. After all, these are the parties responsible for oiling accidents – and the ones guilty of causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals and the destruction of marine environments worldwide. The system is currently broken. And as long as petroleum-fueled vessels ply our oceans, we must have better systems in place to deal with these (often preventable) disasters.

Child feeding Rockhopper penguins at rehab site at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Tina Glass

Child feeding Rockhopper penguins at rehabilitation site at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Tina Glass

The Rockhopper rescue at Tristan da Cunha is not yet completed. About 300 penguins, still undergoing rehabilitation, still linger at the three rehabilitation sites. A small number of islanders continue to work around the clock to save these ailing birds. On May 21st, 25 penguins were released, and on May 31st, another 120 birds were liberated from their pens on East Beach. A May 12th article from BirdLife International reports that there has been an 88% mortality rate for the birds that were rescued. (See the BirdLife article here: Gaining weight, but not yet waterproof: penguins still need care.) If this figure is accurate, this is truly a tragic and preventable debacle. Eighty-eight percent should have been – and could have been – the success rate, not the mortality rate. Please do not misinterpret my words as a reflection on the islanders and rescuers who went to help them deal with this unexpected disaster. They did everything in their power to save the oiled birds, and it is clearly not their fault that this rescue effort was not more successful. It is due to many circumstances far beyond their control. Which is why the current system needs to change.

Release of 25 Rockhopper penguins on May 21st. Photo by Marina Burns

Release of 25 Rockhopper penguins on May 21st. Photo by Marina Burns

It has been reported that the ship’s insurers will be paying for the penguin rescue effort and environmental clean-up. But that is not enough. Future long-term monitoring of the Endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin population at Tristan da Cunah will be necessary to determine the full impact of this oil spill. And this important conservation project will not be funded by the ship’s owners or insurers. These types of follow-up studies are essential for providing supporting evidence when trying to get new laws passed or protected areas established near sensitive wildlife areas. If you care about these beautiful birds and want to do something to help ensure their future survival, please donate generously to one of the rescue funds established in response to the MS Oliva oil spill. (See a list of these groups below.)

Thank you,

Dyan deNapoli – The Penguin Lady (www.thepenguinlady.com)

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

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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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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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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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