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Nightingale Island penguins still at threat

By Lucy Brake - 14 Apr 2011 12:40:1 GMT
Nightingale Island penguins still at threat

Late in March 2011 a cargo ship, the Olivia, hit rocks on Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha group of islands, causing an environmental disaster on these UK-owned islands. The boat was carrying 65,000 tonnes of soya beans when she was grounded, loosing most of her cargo plus a large amount of the oil she was carrying.

The Earth Times reported how 1,500 tonnes of heavy crude oil had spilled into the sea, posing a major hazard to the island's tens of thousands of pairs of penguin, as well as the economically-important rock lobster fisher.

The remoteness of the Tristan islands and the fact that there is no air field on any of the islands has caused major headaches for the oil spill management efforts. A Russian research vessel, Ivan Papanin, has now arrived at Nightingale Island bringing with it special cleaning supplies to assist as well as oil spill management equipment. The Ivan Papanin also has a helicopter on board to help with deployment of the oil spill equipment which will make clean-up efforts significantly easier.

Currently there are 28 international oil spill experts on the island as well as over 80 volunteers to support the efforts. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has reported that to date, 3718 oiled penguins have been recovered and transferred to the main island of Tristan for rehabilitation.

As luck would have it the majority of the endangered penguins had already left the island to head off to feeding areas and they are not expected to return to Nightingale Island until August when they will be breeding again.

In addition, the oil spill has happened as the southern winter descends upon the islands and the heavy seas and big winds have helped to disperse most of the oil. However, many of the animals, birds and plants around Nightingale Island are still showing obvious signs of stress from the oil pollution.

A washing facility has been set up to care for the oil covered Penguins. Many of the local islanders have been assisting with the washing to remove all traces of oil from the penguins' feathers and bodies. Once washed the penguins are being given electrolytes and glucose, tagged and then sent to special pools set up to help them regain their waterproofing abilities.

Katrine Herian, RSPB Project Office on Tristan da Cunha reports that the cleaned and rejuvenated penguins are then being fed South African Pilchards while they are being held in the village swimming pool to check for waterproofing before finally being approved for release back into the wild.