25/03/2011
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Hundreds of penguins in rehab following oil spill

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Hundreds of oil-soaked Rockhopper Penguins from Nightingale Island 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.

The grounded cargo vessel MS Oliva crashed into Nightingale Island — part of the Tristan da Cunha UK overseas territory — 10 days ago, and local conservationists and volunteers have been working tirelessly ever since to help the birds. Almost 500 penguins are already in a rehab shed where a team has begun efforts to stabilise them with fluid, vitamins and charcoal to absorb ingested oil. Another 500 penguins arrived on a rescue boat late last night and a further 500 are awaiting transport.


Rehab Unit on Tristan (photo: courtesy of RSPB).


One of the oiled birds arriving in rehab(photo: courtesy of RSPB).

Katrine Herian, who works for the RSPB on the island, said: "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."

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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 and is being drained of chlorinated water to be partially refilled and used for birds that are not as badly oiled as others. The crew of the Oliva, which is still ashore on Tristan, are helping out by building a facility for the birds.


Stabilisation with fluids is essential primary care for arriving birds (photo: courtesy of RSPB).


Further stabilisation helps avoid future complications during rehabilitation (photo: courtesy of RSPB).

Sarah Sanders, from the RSPB's International Division, added: "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."

One salvage tug from Cape Town has now arrived on the island and it is hoped a decision will be made quickly to send a second ship shortly. Anyone wanting to donate money to help support the Tristan da Cunha community respond to the environmental disaster can join the UK-based Tristan da Cunha Association, which exists to support the island.

Written by: RSPB