His name is Eduardo Alonso Ramos, but everyone calls him “Alonso.” He and Lachi, also a colleague from the University of Havana’s Center for Marine Research (Centro de Investigaciones Marinas, CIM) were supposed to join me for a final meeting at Havana’s Marina Hemingway yesterday in final preparations for our expedition, which they were planning to be part of.
They never arrived. That’s not unusual here in Cuba. Transportation is often a nightmare. Perhaps his motorcycle broke down. Perhaps he couldn’t get gas. Who knows? I wasn’t worried. Though it was a bit unusual that they never called, even last night.
This morning I learned the tragic truth, and it’s still sinking in. Alonso was filling a SCUBA tank at CIM yesterday afternoon when it exploded, killing him instantly. He was only 41. He leaves a wife, 36, who is pregnant. They buried him this morning. [Read more…]
Earlier this year, World Resources Institute released its “Reefs at Risk Revisited Report” (featured on The Ocean Doctor Radio Show) which spelled out a rather grim future for coral reefs due to both local and global threats, should we fail to take action. One of the bright spots in its report was Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which has fared better than many other reefs around the world and has in place strong protections and management practices. But even this massive and remote reef system isn’t immune from the impacts affecting coral reefs worldwide. In “A Fragile Empire” National Geographic Magazine (May 2011) writer Jennifer S. Holland explores the various factors that are threatening Australia’s monumental reef. From rising water temperatures, to bleaching, massive flooding and high levels of acidity, the reef is in danger of collapsing and the prospect for recovery is uncertain.
A warming climate is pushing corals against the upper limit of their thermal tolerance, evidenced by mass bleachings like the one in 1997-98. A 60-year decline in ocean phytoplankton — microscopic organisms that form the base of the food chain — may also be playing a role. Recent flooding in Australia washed enormous plumes of sediments and toxins far offshore to the reef tract. And now, thanks to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the oceans are becoming more and more acidic as more of this atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater. As the oceans become more acid, limiting the ability of organisms, like corals and shellfish, to build their limestone shells and skeletons.
EARTH DAY 2011: This isn’t what I had planned to write for Earth Day. But it’s the most important thing I can write today. I write these words with a single, challenging purpose: I need you to care deeply about something. I need you to care about something that wasn’t supposed to be possible. I need you to care so deeply that you choose to help. And to make things even more challenging, what I need you to care about is a place you’ve never heard of and are very unlikely to see in your lifetime, a place that’s such an infinitesimally tiny speck lying quite literally in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, it appears on few maps (and even befuddles Google maps). And unless you’re one of the fewer than 300 people that call Tristan da Cunha home, it will take you at best 5-7 days to get to this airstrip-lacking place even if you dash out the door before finishing this paragraph. Tristan da Cunha is, quite literally, the most remote inhabited island in the world. A sign on the island boasts this factoid, alongside a marker pointing east toward the nearest civilization: 1,511 miles to Cape Town, South Africa. [Read more…]
Dramatic video shot by Kristine Hannon details the rescue of 12 crew members aboard the bulk carrier, “Oliva,” on March 17, 2011, where it grounded the prior day. Within hours of the successful rescue, the ship broke in two and sunk, unleashing a massive oil spill, threatening millions of seabirds including the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. [Read more…]
Dr. David E. Guggenheim, the “Ocean Doctor,” is interviewed about the tragic oil spill at Nightingale Island and rescue operations to save the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins. [Read more…]
During a briefing by The Ocean Foundation to the conservation NGO community in Washington, DC, Katrine Herian, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha, informed us by telephone that the desperate effort to rescue endangered Northern Rockhopper penguins from neighboring Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands (the latter a World Heritage Site) continues, with roughly 2,300 penguins already relocated for rehabilitation on Tristan da Cunha and another 600 birds expected last evening. [Read more…]
Oil Now Surrounds World Heritage Site, Inaccessible Island. Thousands of Endangered Penguins, Seabirds at Risk
ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: I spoke today with Katrine Herrion, a project officer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stationed at Tristan da Cunha.
Katrine was camped on Inaccessible Island last weekend and reports that as of Sunday, oil completely surrounded the island. She and her team observed nearly 100 oiled penguins just before they departed. Clearly many more are being impacted.
Trevor Glass, Director of the Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation was planning to return to Tristan da Cunha from Nightingale Island with around 750 penguins for rehabilitation. This represents a small percentage of the number of birds estimated to be impacted at this point, conservatively estimated at more than 10,000.
Because penguins cannot fly, it is impossible for them to avoid the oil when entering and exiting the water. Oil impacts the waterproof properties of their feathers and makes them vulnerable to hypothermia by reducing their feather’s insulation abilities. Oil can seriously impact the birds’ eyes and other tissues and can poison them if they ingest the oil while attempting to clean their feathers. A number of oiled seals have also been observed on Nightingale Island. [Read more…]
ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: Expedition staff environmental scientist, Claudia Holgate received an email from Tristan da Cunha Department of Conservation director, Trevor Glass indicating that oil from the wrecked freighter “Oliva” had now reached Inaccessible Island, a World Heritage Site.
Like Nightingale Island, the site of the shipwreck, Inaccessible Island is home to an enormous concentration of seabirds, including the Spectacled petrel found nowhere else in the world (approximately 10,000 nesting pairs). It is also the only home of flightless Inaccessible rail which forages along the shoreline and is therefore vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill. Other seabirds on Inaccessible Island include the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin, and the Great shearwater. Of a worldwide total of five million nesting pairs of Great shearwaters, four million are concentrated on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands. The highly endangered Tristan bunting, with only 50 nesting pairs remaining in the world, live exclusively on Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands.
ABOARD PRINCE ALBERT II: If you had to pick one of the most unlikely places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group. Tristan da Cunha is known as the most remote populated island in the world, 1,500 miles from Cape Town, South Africa, a distant speck in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, far from any shipping lanes, which is to say, it’s not on the way to anywhere. If you had to pick one of the worst places for a ship to run aground, it would be the Tristan da Cunha island group — especially Nightingale Island, which harbors one of the most spectacular and significant populations of sea birds in the world, including endangered species and birds not found anywhere else in the world, including the Northern Rockhopper Penguin. Neighboring Inaccessible Island is a World Heritage Site nine miles from Nightingale island. [Read more…]