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Posts Tagged ‘oil spill’

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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When the MS Oliva slammed into Nightingale Island on Wednesday, March 16th, spilling 300,000 gallons of fuel oil that oiled thousands of endangered penguins, one would have thought the world would have stood up and taken notice. But this tiny island, which is part of the Tristan da Cunha island group lying halfway between South Africa and South America, is so small and so remote that most people have never even heard of it. There are no people living on this 1.5 square mile speck of land – however, Nightingale and the few other tiny islands that make up this island group are inhabited by millions of seabirds, including the Northern Rockhopper penguin. Nearby Tristan da Cunha is the most isolated inhabited island on the planet – just 265 people live there.

Map of Tristan da Cunha islands

Map of Tristan da Cunha islands

Perhaps if this oil spill had occurred in a more populated region, more people would have heard about it. Or, for those of us living in the US, if the spill had occurred in US waters, it might have been in our newspapers and on our nightly news. Perhaps if there were not other earth-shattering events occurring at the same time (Japan, Libya, etc), news of this environmental disaster would have made it into the headlines. Perhaps if it was a story about people or a war, and not about a bunch of birds, it might have attracted the attention of mainstream media. Perhaps. But it was none of these things – and so it has been eclipsed by other ‘more important’ news stories.

But that finally changed this weekend, when the story was picked up by a few major news outlets – in particular CNN, who ran the story yesterday on their website and television network. This headline ran on their website on April 3rd: Penguin rescue operation under way after South Atlantic oil spill.

We have Dr. David Guggenheim (the Ocean Doctor) to thank for making this happen. Dr. Guggenheim just happened to be on a ship travelling to Tristan da Cunha when this oil spill occurred. It had been his life-long dream – since the age of eleven – to see penguins in the wild. He could never have imagined that, instead of seeing lively Rockhoppers bouncing from rock to rock, he would see them hunkered down by the shoreline, their bodies encased in thick, black oil. Even the plumes of feathers above their eyes that are normally bright yellow and partially erect, were solid black and plastered to the sides of their heads.

 

Heavily oiled Rockhopper penguin on Nightingale Island. Photo by Andrew Evans
Oiled Rockhopper penguin on Nightingale Island. Photo by Andrew Evans

On his journey throughout the southern oceans, Dr. Guggenheim had been regularly blogging and video conferencing with students in their classrooms. Had he not been at Tristan da Cunha at just the right time, with just the right technology, and just the right passion for our oceans, we still might not know about the MS Oliva oil spill and its impact on the penguins and other animals there. Also fortuitously – or miraculously, some might say – the crew of the ship he was travelling on (the Prince Albert II) had been trained in high-seas rescues, and they were able to rescue the 22-man crew from the MS Oliva before it broke apart and sank.

Prince Albert II crew members rescuing crew from the MS Oliva. Photo by Kristine Hannon

Prince Albert II crew members rescuing crew from the MS Oliva. Photo by Kristine Hannon

Because Dr. Guggenheim was on the scene and began posting about it right away, word began to spread about this latest penguin crisis. At least in online communities. Were it not for social media, who knows how long it might have been before we learned of it here in the states, or in other parts of the world. And yesterday afternoon – at long last – CNN interviewed Dr. Guggenheim about the oil spill on one of their international news programs. The clip from that broadcast can be seen here: Dr. David Guggenheim on CNN.

Now, perhaps, more media outlets will take notice. And we need them to. Although the ship’s insurers will eventually be forced to pay for the rescue efforts, until then, rescue workers on the islands are in desperate need of supplies and funding. Just 100 islanders and a few penguin specialists are caring for thousands of penguins that have been rescued from the oil spill. Of the estimated 10,000-20,000 penguins that have been oiled, a few thousand have been captured. The size and scope of the task they face is truly daunting. You can help the islanders save their penguins by making a donation through one of the organizations listed below. All of the funds raised go directly to the islands to support the penguin rescue effort currently underway.

Rescue worker feeding Rockhopper penguin at Tristan. Photo via CNN

Rescue worker feeding Rockhopper penguin at Tristan. Photo via CNN

The Ocean Foundation fundraiser (set up by the Ocean Doctor): Nightingale Island Disaster Penguin and Seabird Rescue Fund

Crowdrise fundraiser (set up by Sandra Birnhak, Director of the Foundation for Antarctic Research): Catastrophic Oil Spill – Tristan

RSPB fundraiser (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds): Nightingale Island Emergency Appeal

Please donate as generously as you can! These penguins were just declared an endangered species in 2008, and your help is needed to keep their fragile population viable. I will be posting another update about the current state of the rescue effort – but for now, you can learn more by reading the CNN article.

Thank you!

Dyan deNapoli (The Penguin Lady) – 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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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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