Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
March 22, 2011



 Northern rockhopper penguins covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green..
Northern rockhopper penguins covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green. Courtesy of: The Tristan da Cunha Website.

Disturbing photos show northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) hit hard by an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship on Nightingale Island in the Southern Atlantic. Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the oil spill threatens nearly half of the northern rockhopper population according to BirdLife International. Already conservation workers say 'hundreds' of penguins have been oiled.

Located the remote Southern Atlantic, Nightingale Island is a part of the UK's Tristan da Cunha archipelago. The island's are home to a variety of birdlife, including species that survive no-where else but on the archipelago.

> Northern rockhopper penguins covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green.
Northern rockhopper penguins coated in oil. Conservation workers say they have discovered at least 250 penguins with oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green. Courtesy of: The Tristan da Cunha Website.
Workers with the Tristan Conservation Team have been sent to the oil spill to aid the wildlife, including the penguins. However, Nightingale has no fresh water, so the penguins will have to be transferred to Tristan da Cunha Island to be cleaned.

Workers found an "awful scene" with an oil slick ranging "from thin films of oil, small balls and larger clumps of tar with the smell of diesel everywhere," according to the Department.

In addition, a tugboat has been sent from the nearest coast—South Africa—to drag the broken craft away. Fortunately, all 22 employees of the wrecked cargo craft are safe. The tug boat is also bringing an environmental expert, Estelle van der Merwe, with experience in working with oiled birds as an advisor.

 Northern rockhopper penguin covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green.
Northern rockhopper penguin covered in oil. Photo by: Tristan Conservation Team of Simon Glass, Wayne Swain and Matthew Green. Courtesy of: The Tristan da Cunha Website.
Along with the pollution, the wreck could add another environmental disaster to the islands' bird life.

"Nightingale is one of two large islands in the Tristan da Cunha group that are rodent-free. If rats gain a foothold, their impact would be devastating," expalins Richard Cuthbert, a research biologist with Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The conservation team has already set rat traps in preparation of a rat infestation.

The oil spill, which spreads over 8 miles (13 kilometers), also threatens the remote islands' main economic source: fishing. The population of Tristan da Cunha is just under 300 people.

Rockhopper penguins are easy to identify, sporting long yellow spiked plumes and red eyes. Their unique look made them one of the stars of the popular animated film, Happy Feet.

Though beloved around the world, penguins are among the world's most threatened bird families. Industry fishing, which competes with penguins for their fish, habitat destruction, climate change, and disasters such as oil spills has pushed 60% of penguin species to be considered threatened with extinction.

 Nightingale Island as viewed from Google Earth.
Nightingale Island as viewed from Google Earth.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (March 22, 2011).

Photos: penguins devastated by oil spill.

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