Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oil Spill on Nightingale Island

On March 16, 2011 at 04:30 the MS Oliva, a tanker carrying soy beans, ran aground on Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha Island Group, South Atlantic Ocean. All 22 crew members were successfully rescued, but the ship was battered against the rocks on Spinner's Point and subsequently large amounts of fuel oil was discharged into the sea from the ship's ruptured fuel tanks.
Nightingale Island is home to the rare Northern rockhopper penguin, and several thousand birds were severely oiled as this is breeding and molting season for these penguins here in the southern hemisphere. The penguins could not help but get covered with oil as they returned from feeding in open sea they had to swim through the oil soaked waters surrounding their colonies.

The oil itself was caught up in the kelp beds and was not dispersing, forming an oil slick hundreds of yards thick right at the entrance and exit points from land for several of the rockhopper colonies.

Once they are oiled the penguins try very hard to clean the oil from their feathers with their beaks, only to ingest the oil itself. This of course can lead to all manner of respitory problems and even death.

Rescue workers and volunteers alike from nearby Tristan da Cunha quickly mobilized and began cleaning the oiled penguins individually. On the day these photos were taken (March 23) some 750 penguins were caught, field cleaned, and transported back to Tristan da Cunha for further cleaning.

Many of the birds who suffered severe oiling were caught and cleaned, but there will undoubtedly be repurcussions into the future as not all birds can be evacuated. For the latest information about this event please visit

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