Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic’

March 22, 2011

Catastrophic South Atlantic Oil Spill Threatens Endangered Rockhopper Penguins

Hello everyone,

There has been a catastrophic oil spill on a remote island in the mid-South Atlantic Ocean that is threatening an entire colony of endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins.

The MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, one of three islands of the Tristan da Cunha group, on March 16, 2011. All 22 crew were rescued before the ship broke up and leaked oil into the sea. The freighter was shipping soya beans from Rio de Janeiro to Singapore. It is said to be also carrying 1,650 tons of heavy crude oil.

Nightingale Island is regarded as one of the world’s most important wildlife habitats. The island is home to 40% of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins (photo, above), and about 20,000 have already been confirmed oiled.

There are species of albatross, petrels and shearwaters that nest on these islands. However, all of the reports of oiled birds have been about the penguins. The likely reason for this is that many of the flighted bird species fly out to sea before landing on water, thereby avoiding the oil along the coastline. Since the penguins are not flighted, they have to swim through it to get to the islands, making them the most vulnerable and highly impacted.

Nightingale Islands in southern Atlantic Ocean View Larger Map

IBRRC’s colleagues at The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) are leading bird rescue and rehabilitation efforts and will soon be en-route. You may remember that IBRRC has worked with SANCCOB in four different oil spills in Cape Town, South Africa. Most notably, in the Apollo Sea oil spill in 1994 we helped care for 10,000 oiled African Penguins, and during the 2000 Treasure oil spill we helped manage the rehabilitation of another 20,000.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the current Northern Rockhopper Penguin population in the Tristan da Cunha island group is estimated 18-27,000 at Inaccessible Island, 3,200-4,500 at Tristan. Nightingale and Middle Islands were estimated to support 125,000 pairs in the 1970s, but recent observations suggest that the main colony on Nightingale has decreased in size.

Logistics are difficult at best. An old fishing factory will be used as a rehab center. There is limited water, and no airport, so supplies are either air-dropped there or are brought by ship every few months or so. All people must arrive by ship, and it takes 4 days to get there from Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the birds have been oiled for over a week, which limits their chances of survival. The birds cannot be removed from the islands and brought to the mainland due to disease transmission concerns.

IBRRC has been in touch with SANCCOB and, along with other leading international wildlife groups, is providing support by phone as their team prepares to mobilize. SANCCOB’s team will be arriving at the islands on Sunday, March 27th, and has asked IBRRC’s trained and experienced team to be prepared to offer support. There are 300 people living on Tristan Island, and 100 of them are available to help with the penguins.

This is a truly grave situation for the Rockhopper Penguin colony and the ultimate challenge for wildlife rehabilitators. SANCCOB is the most experienced penguin rehabilitation organization in the world and we have full confidence in their ability to set up the best possible program for these birds. IBRRC’s team is coming together, and will send help when asked, and continue to support the SANCCOB team as needed. We will keep you updated as we receive information.

Jay Holcomb

Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

More information:

Atlantic oil spill threatens endangered penguins:
Seattle Times

Locals helping roundup penguins on Nightingale Island

Tristan da Cunha, the Loneliest Island on Earth

Photo: Northern Rockhopper Penguin at Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany, used by via Creative Commons

April 18, 2010

Behold the Sargasso Sea Garbage Patch

Just in time for Earth Day: The 5 Gyres Project has news and videos of even more plastic trash circulating in the North Atlantic Ocean. The researchers found a soup of garbage in the Sargaso Sea – an area from Bermuda to the Azores Island – that contained stew of floating trash similar to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

North Atlantic Garbage Patch from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, CA claims that “Humanity’s plastic footprint is probably more dangerous than its carbon footprint.”

Moore is credited with discovering the Pacific garbage patch in 1997. He says the Atlantic Ocean contain as much or more plastic debris. Because the Atlantic is stormier, debris there most likely have been diffused, he said.

Algalita is one of the sponsors of this latest scientific efforts.

The industrial world generates large amounts of plastic debris that end up in the oceans: odd pieces of plastics thrown carelessly overboard, fishing lines and nets, container ship losses and all the junk carried by rivers and streams into the ocean.

These debris are a hazard to shipping and especially to marine life. Here at IBRRC we receive many injured birds each year caught in fishing line.

Also high levels of plastic debris has been found in seabirds (Albatross, Sooty-Shearwaters etc.) gizzards.

What we know

• Plastic water bottles take 450 years to decompose
• Fishing lines and nets can take up to 600 years to decompose.
• Plastic bags or balloons in the ocean are dangerous. (They can look like a jellyfish meal to a sea turtle)

What we all can do:

• Reduce your use of disposable plastic products
• Reuse and recycle what you can.
• Buy reuseable grocery bags to cut down on plastic bag use.
• Tell others about the dangers of marine debris.
• Pick up litter.
• Volunteer for beach and stream clean-ups.
• Remind others not release balloons into the atmosphere.

Read more

San Francisco Chronicle: A 2nd garbage patch: Plastic soup seen in Atlantic

The 5 Gyres Project