29 March 2011

Tristan Islanders rally to save oiled penguins

Stabilising a penguin.
Photo by Katrine Herian/The RSPB
TRISTAN DA CUNHA - Nearly 1,500 oil-soaked northern rockhopper penguins have now been put into 'rehab' by Tristan Islanders facing a race against the clock to help save the endangered species. 

But those assessing the impact of the disaster believe more than 10,000 birds could have been affected.

Local conservationists, volunteers and now experts from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCOBB) have been working tirelessly to help the threatened birds.

So far 1,481 penguins have been brought to Tristan for rehabilitation. The rescue team have set up a rehab shed, which can hold about 1,000 penguins, and the team has begun efforts to stabilise them with fluid, vitamins and charcoal to absorb ingested oil. The penguins that are not as badly oiled as the others are being held in an outside pen.

Katrine Herian, who works for the RSPB on the island, says: “The priority is to get food into the birds as they are very hungry. We are trying locally caught fish and some are starting to take small half inch squares of the food.

“We will do all we can to clean up as many penguins as possible after this disaster.”

A local barge went out specifically to catch fish for the penguins, which was filleted and fed to the oiled birds.

Washing of the birds will be started once they are stabilised and heaters or infrared bulbs are available to keep them warm afterwards. There is a high risk of pneumonia developing if they are cold.

The swimming pool on Tristan has been closed for bathing, drained of chlorinated water and partially refilled with fresh water to be used for lightly oiled birds. The first 80 have been put in the pool and took to the water immediately - diving, splashing and later preening.

The crew of the Oliva, which is still ashore on Tristan, are helping out by building a facility for the birds.

Sarah Sanders from the RSPB’s International Division says: "We still can’t believe this has happened and suspect that the full impacts of the oil spill will still be coming to light in weeks to come.

"Unlike previous spills of this size, it didn’t happen way out to sea and gradually approach such a vital conservation area. It struck right at the heart of the penguin colony and it’s devastating to them."

It is hoped a decision will be made quickly to send a second ship from Cape Town shortly.

People around the world have been moved by the plight of Tristan's wildlife and the threat to the island's way of life caused by the incident and have asked how they can help. However, volunteers cannot be flown to Tristan da Cunha (because there is no airport and only limited passenger capacity on the infrequent sailings) and further supplies will take 4-6 days to reach the island.

There is as yet no formal appeal for funds to support the work the Tristan da Cunha community is doing, but anyone wanting to donate money to help support the community respond to the environmental disaster can join the UK-based Tristan da Cunha Association which exists to support the island.

Read related posts

Tristan Islanders rally to save oiled penguins, 25 March 2011, RSBP
Oliva Tristan Diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 29 March 2011
Tristan da Cunha MS Oliva Environmental Emergency: How you can help, Tristan da Cunha Association

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