Birdwatch News Archive
Marlei Martins, one of the SANCCOB workers, trains a local to clean an oiled penguin. Photo: Katrine Herian (www.rspb-images.com).
Tristan penguins released
Posted on: 08 Apr 2011
The first 24 penguins of more than 3,600 admitted to the “rehab centre” on Tristan da Cunha after the oil spill around Nightingale Island have been released back to the sea.
“The penguins were selected from the strongest ones, with no visible oil on their outer plumage,” reports Trevor Glass Tristan da Cunha Conservation Officer. “Of the many tested to see if they were ready for release, only 24 had perfectly waterproof plumage.”
“It was an emotional moment to see these penguins released from captivity and walk into the sea and then swim off among the waves,” said Katrine Herian, the RSPB Project Officer on Tristan da Cunha. “The Tristan islanders are putting hundreds of hours of their time into saving the oiled penguins and we hope these are the first of many to be released”.
On arrival at the rehab centre, the oiled Northern Rockhopper Penguins are stabilised and kept indoors, after which the fittest ones are moved to an outside pen. From here the cleanest and strongest ones are moved to the island’s swimming pool, which is refilled daily with fresh, unchlorinated water.
So far, 3,662 oiled penguins have been admitted to the rehab centre. 373 have died since the first batch of 500 were admitted on 23 March. About 25 per cent of the penguins at the centre are currently in the release pool, but there are still many oiled penguins which require urgent washing.
The rehab centre was set up after the cargo ship MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island on March 16, spilling 800 tonnes of fuel oil into the sea at the heart of one of the most important breeding colonies of the Northern Rockhopper Eudyptes moseleyi. Nightingale, Tristan and Inaccessible islands hold around half the population of this globally Endangered species.
After seven days at sea, a five-member specialist team has arrived on Tristran da Cunha to lend their expertise to cleaning the thousands of Northern Rockhopper Penguins affected by the oil spill which followed the grounding of cargo ship MS Oliva on Nightingale Island.
After a day’s delay caused by rough weather, the team from SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) were able to get ashore, and the equipment and materials they had brought with them were offloaded. The materials include vitamin supplements and medicines, which are already being put to use in the rehab centre.
The SANCCOB team met many of the islanders involved in the rehab operation as they began their daily shift “tubing” and feeding the penguins - when penguins first arrive on Tristan they are dehydrated, so are given electrolyte solution with a tube and syringe. They were impressed with the set-up at the rehab centre, and praised the islanders’ efforts under difficult conditions and with very limited resources.
SANCCOB logistics manager Mariëtte Hopley reported that a washing facility would be up and running on Friday, when training would begin for islanders in the washing of penguins. Hot water geysers will be installed to remove the heavy bunker oil from the penguins, which will then be moved to a drying room equipped with infrared lights. Outside, large tanks will collect and separate the waste-oil/solids and grey water from the washing process.
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 fish fed to them thus far.
Dr. Mark Whittington of ITOPF (a not-for-profit organisation established on behalf of the world’s shipowners, to promote an effective response to marine chemical pollution incidents), and Mr. Jean-Luc Dardidon of Le Floch Depollution (a company specialising in dealing with the aftermath of oil spills), visited Middle and Nightingale Islands to assess the residual oil remaining in the bays and on the rocks. A plan will shortly be formalised to deal with the remaining oil, and to prevent further impact on the penguin and bird colonies.
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