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Posts Tagged ‘Venessa Strauss’

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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There has not been much news coming out of Tristan over the last few days. I imagine this is due to rescuers working non-stop on the creation of a temporary rehabilitation facility on the main island (Tristan da Cunha). Once the ship from Cape Town arrived last Tuesday, the rescue team from South Africa immediately set about preparing this center and triaging thousands of oiled penguins. This team brings with them a great deal of experience managing large-scale penguin and seabird rescue operations (including the Apollo Sea, Cordigliera, and Treasure oil spill rescues). So, for today, I am taking the following news directly from the official Tristan da Cunha website. This is their most recent report, which was posted last Wednesday, April 6th.

Wednesday 6th April Report from RSPB Project Officer Katrine Herian – Tug Singapore unloads

On the afternoon of Tuesday 5 th April, after seven days at sea on board the support tug Svitzer Singapore, the SANCCOB team were able to get ashore at Tristan while offloading began of the specialist equipment and materials needed for washing the penguins. Vital vitamins and medicines also came ashore and these were already being put to use in the rehab centre’s intensive care unit later than evening. Venessa Strauss, CEO at SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) reported the team were relieved to get ashore, as bad weather had kept them on board the tug Singapore one extra day which had been very frustrating. Offloading SANCCOB’s equipment from the “Svitzer Singapore” continued throughout Wednesday, and weather permitting should be completed on Thursday 7 th April.

Svitzer Singapore, the tug from Cape Town, unloading at Tristan on April 5, 2011. Photo by Katrien Herian

The Svitzer Singapore (the tug from Cape Town) unloading at Tristan on April 5th. Photo by Katrine Herian

SANCCOB Team impressed with Tristan rehabilitation effort

This morning the five members of the SANCCOB team including Veterinarian Tertius Gous, met many of the islanders involved in the rehab operation as they started their daily shift tubing and feeding the penguins. The SANCCOB team were impressed with the set up at the rehab centre and praised the islanders’ efforts under difficult conditions and with very limited resources. It is now two weeks since the first oiled penguins arrived at the rehab centre, and three weeks since the OLIVA grounded on Nightingale Island.

Environmental Advisor and former SANCCOB Centre Manager, Estelle van der Merwe, watches as volunteers feed the penguins. Photo by Tina Glass

Environmental Advisor and former SANCCOB Centre Manager, Estelle van der Merwe, watches as volunteers feed the penguins. Photo by Tina Glass

Cleaning operation planned

Today work began on installing specialist equipment at the wash-bay facility which will be housed in two government containers close to the rehab shed. Here hot water geysers will be installed for the penguin-washing operation (to remove the heavy bunker oil), as well as infrared lights in a drying room. Outside, large tanks will collect and separate the waste-oil/solids and grey water from the washing process. SANCCOB logistics manager Mariëtte Hopley reported the washing facility would be up and running on Friday, when training would begin for islanders in the washing of penguins.
The rehab shed was cleaned out and disinfected before turning it into a dedicated unit for sick and weaker penguins. Working closely with the island rehab manager Dereck Rogers, the SANCCOB team separated penguins by habitus, with the very weakest penguins being moved into the rehab shed.

 

Cleaning the rehab shed at Tristan. Photo by Katrine Herian

Cleaning the rehab shed at Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Katrine Herian

Pilchards imported to supplement local fish food for penguins

By midday the first boxes of frozen pilchards had come ashore and were being defrosted and fed to the stronger penguins which are being prepared for “washing” over the weekend. Each penguin was fed one pilchard for the first day, as they need to get used to the change in diet from the local yellowtail and five fingers fish fed to them thus far.

Feeding oiled penguins at Tristan. Photo by Katrine Herian

Feeding locally caught fish to the penguins. Photo by Katrine Herian

Outer islands oil pollution assessment

Dr. Mark Whittington (of ITOPF) , and Mr. Jean-Luc Dardidon (of Le Floch), visited Middle & Nightingale Islands to assess the residual oil remaining in the bays and on the rocks after the OLIVA grounded on the 16 th March. A plan shall shortly be formalised to deal with the remaining oil, and to prevent further impact on the penguin and bird colonies.

BRIEF UPDATE:

A helicopter is supposedly on standby on another ship (the Ivan Papanin) that is waiting to head to Tristan from Cape Town. The chopper will be of tremendous help in moving penguins off of the islands, monitoring the number of birds still on the islands, and transporting clean penguins away from the oil-contaminated waters in the area. I will have another update about this in my next post (which will be later today or tomorrow).

To read more about this penguin rescue (and to see more photos), visit the official Tristan da Cunha website here. This page commences with the first rescue of oiled penguins on March 19, 2011.

PLEASE HELP BY DONATING TO THIS PENGUIN RESCUE EFFORT TODAY!

While the ship’s insurers are supposed to pay for rescue and clean-up efforts, this takes a long time – and, from what I understand, there has been little or no response from the owners and insurers of the MS Oliva. Without help from the outside world, these endangered penguins (and other seabirds) are at great risk. The islanders and the small team of rescue professionals currently on Tristan da Cunha are doing everything they can to save these oiled birds, but they need funding to carry out this critical rescue mission. Please let them know they are not alone in this – you can help them by donating generously to one of the following groups today. And please spread the word! 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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This past Sunday marked an important turning point in the massive rescue operation currently underway at Tristan da Cunha. Of the 3,662 oiled penguins that have been collected to date, twenty-four lucky birds were released after making it through the cleaning and rehabilitation process. Here is a link to an article about this release from BirdLife International’s website: First Tristan penguins released from rehab. Katrine Herian, RSPB’S Project Officer on the island, was quoted as saying, “It was an emotional moment to see these penguins released from captivity and walk into the sea and then swim off among the waves.”

Having served as a rehabilitation supervisor during the rescue of 19,000 oiled penguins during the Treasure oil spill in 2000, I can just imagine the thrill of that moment. I say ‘imagine’ because I was in South Africa for the first three weeks of the operation, and most of our team had to leave Cape Town before any of the penguins were released. It was incredibly hard to leave without knowing how the penguins would fare – and excruciating leaving our colleagues behind where there was still so much work to be done. I always felt as though we had missed an important part of the rescue experience by not witnessing a release of some of the penguins we had worked so hard to save.

Release of first 24 Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

Release of first 24 Rockhopper penguins at Tristan. Photo by Trevor Glass

But the work is far from over on Tristan. They still have more than 3,600 oiled birds under their care – and thousands more oiled penguins (as well as other oiled birds and marine mammals) are still out on the islands. In addition to the oiled birds they’ve rescued, about 1,500 clean penguins have been collected to be transported to clean waters far from the area. So far, about 375 of the oiled penguins they’ve collected have died. Because it has taken so long for supplies and more help to arrive, the penguins’ chances of survival are more tenuous. The longer a penguin sits covered in oil, the more susceptible it is to illness or death.

Oil-covered Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island. Photo by Trevor Glass.

Oil-covered Rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island. Photo by Trevor Glass.

The good news is that the long-awaited second ship finally arrived from Cape Town earlier this week, carrying much-needed supplies and an experienced rescue team. Included on this team are Mariette Hopley, a superhuman dynamo who is a logistical genius. Mariette oversaw the creation and operation of the Salt River Penguin Crisis Centre during the Treasure rescue effort – this was a satellite facility that housed 16,000 of the 19,000 oiled penguins collected from Robben and Dassen Islands. Also on the ship was Venessa Strauss, current CEO of SANCCOB, the premier penguin rescue center in South Africa. They’ll be joining former colleague Estelle van der Merwe who, as previous Centre Manager of SANCCOB, served as the Treasure Crisis Manager overseeing the entire operation. Estelle was a member of the first rescue team to arrive at Tristan da Cunha following the sinking of the MS Oliva, and is currently serving as Environmental Advisor for this disaster. Although the task ahead of these experts, the Tristan Conservation Team, and the 100 islanders working to save the oiled birds is almost incomprehensible, I feel a great sense of relief knowing that these three extraordinarily capable women are on the rescue team.

Estelle van der Merwe with oiled Rockhoppers.

Estelle van der Merwe with oiled Rockhoppers at Tristan da Cunha.

I encourage everyone who cares even a little bit about penguins or other birds, or about animals and nature in general to consider making a donation to help save these endangered penguins. There are just 150,000-200,000 Northern Rockhopper penguins left on earth, and most of them live in this remote island group. Conservation experts on the islands have estimated that up to 40,000 penguins could become oiled. This spill could have a devastating impact on their rapidly dwindling population. You can donate to help save these birds through one of the following groups. Please give generously! Thank you!

The Ocean Doctor (Dr. David Guggenheim) via The Ocean Foundation:  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


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


Foundation for Antarctic Research (via Crowdrise): Catastrophic Oil Spill – Tristan


BirdLife International’s “Community” page will feature regular updates on the rescue effort, so check it often for the latest news. Here is their Tristan report from yesterday: Island gets set to wash thousands of penguins.

Thank you!

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


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