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Posts Tagged ‘penguin rescue underway’

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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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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